What intrigued me about Altitude (2010) was that the film was being promoted to fans of Donnie Darko (2001) and classic sci-fi show The Twilight Zone. I may not be the biggest fan of Donnie Darko – though I do applaud it for its ingenious and intriguing storytelling, compelling characters and fantastic soundtrack.
I am, however, a huge fan of The Twilight Zone. It’s my favourite TV show of all time and it’s full of fascinating and absorbing stories, all of which are incredibly well written. So comparing your film to a cult favourite with a huge following and one of the greatest TV shows of all time is a bold move and one that could set standards a bit too high.
Altitude tells the story of five teenagers who rent out a small plane to go across the country to see a Coldplay concert. Whilst flying, they encounter a dark cloud patch that sends them into a strange place where they keep climbing; time seems to be non-existent and there appears to be a giant squid monster flying after them.
The five teenagers are made up from the clichéd characters handbook: the quiet emo kid, the prissy-pretty girl, the dickish jock, the even quieter strange kid and the gorgeous brunette who can fly a plane. Okay, so maybe the last one isn’t quite from the clichéd handbook but you get my point. What sets these characters apart from their standard counterparts, however, is that these are the most badly written, annoying and self-obsessed caricatures I have ever had the mis-pleasure of viewing. None of them are likeable, which makes it very difficult to engage any emotion into the film. The worst one of the lot is Jake Weary, who plays dickish jock Sal and ranks high on my list of worst characters ever written and performed in cinema history. He is horrible to a terrible degree. I understand that out of all of them, he’s the one I should engage with the least, but even the worst jocks in cinema have some sort of redeeming feature.
On top of that, the dialogue that spews out of these poor excuses for characters is dreadful. Because the plot makes its point within the first 17 minutes, we are then faced with watching these horrible people shout at each other for over an hour; it’s excruciatingly painful to get through at times. What makes this worse is that writer Paul A. Birkett didn’t have to spend time on this when he could have focused on the more supernatural side of the story.
The film just skirts around the spooky elements and gives them no time or space. The plane wasn’t built to soar to the heights they are at but the plane is still in one piece? Mentioned once is a boring love triangle storyline that isn’t developed enough. The radio won’t connect to anyone? The plane is running low on fuel but carries on flying? All tossed to one side to focus on the relationship between pilot Sara and quiet strange kid Bruce – another relationship that was written for the sake of one being there.
For a supernatural horror, it really dropped the ball on a lot of the supernatural elements. If you write characters that are incredibly un-engaging, don’t try and force feed pointless relationship storylines down our our throats.
But, like Donnie Darko and The Twilight Zone, Altitude does eventually lead up a surprise ‘twist’ ending. However, unlike Donnie Darko or The Twilight Zone, Altitude’s ending does not deliver enough to compensate for the awfulness it had presented beforehand. While I admit I could not have seen the ending coming if my life depended on it, it still felt underwhelming.
Convoluted, quite messy and very much a let down, Altitude is a film with so much promise that it goes unrealised. All the tools were there but they were put in the hands of people who can’t build things. An intriguing plot ruined by awful characters, horrendous dialogue and dreadful acting. With a bit of time spent on getting the plot and characters right, this could have become a cult hit. As it stands, it’s nothing more than a TV movie made for the SyFy Channel.