Is This Trip Necessary?


The Curse of Wolf Mountain

We open on AJ recounting a recurrent nightmare. As a child he witnessed his parents being killed by a terrible creature on a lonely mountain. But he can't completely visualize it. How much is he making up? Is the creature a man or a Bigfoot-style myth? His psychiatrist recommends he revisit the scene to come to grips with the memory. And so, AJ assembles a crew of standard character types (doting wife, wise older brother and steadfast partner, doltish brother-in-law and hot Latina girlfriend) and treks into the woods, unaware that a trio of murderous outlaws are out there as well. And soon their paths will cross…

The Curse of Wolf Mountain starts off promisingly. But as we get to the mountain, we realize that, despite the stock footage of sweeping vistas, we're going to stay in one pretty small patch of woods. And then the crew pitches camp, pulls out a cheap grill instead of starting a campfire, and sets up to make 'smores. S'mores? In the middle of the afternoon? The sun still glints off the treetops. Then it's clear these sequences will be shot "day for night," simulating nighttime using dark lens filters. This filter, however, is so smudgy that action is hard to decipher.

Not that there's much to keep track of. During the film, characters wander around, test their cellphones ("I can't get a signal out here!"), rest to catch their breath and, in the tradition of the genre, get picked off one by one by some shadowy assailant, in ways that are not nearly clever or gruesome enough. Wonder who the killer could be? Well, who's left standing?

Any movie deserves a chance, providing the filmmakers are sincere and try their best. Sadly, not so here. The Curse of Wolf Mountain is flippantly planned and poorly executed and exploits the sturdy "don't go in the woods" genre with only a passing nod to audience expectations.

The actors seem game. Keli Price (who also wrote the screenplay) is AJ and Karissa Lee Staples is his loyal wife Samantha. David Lipper (who produced and directed) plays older brother Max, and Fernanda Romero is Lexi, his partner. They are all young and talented, and I'm sure all want to include Curse in their reel. But the production values are so slow they cheapen the performances.

And then there are the stereotypes. The outlaws are Mexican, shorthand for cartel members. Comic relief is supplied by two constantly bickering park rangers, both Black, who squeal at danger and pop their eyes in "feets, don't fail me now!" tradition. Sorry: in 2023, these are racist clichés.

Worst of all, the great top-billed character actors are wasted, in what feels like a bait and switch. Danny Trejo (remember the human head on the tortoise on Breaking Bad? Him.) barely utters his trademark growl before he's dispatched. Tobin Bell (of the Saw movies) literally phones his part in, playing a shrink on Zoom. Neither get nearly enough screentime.

So one has to wonder: why even bother making this kind of movie, in a location you don't even attempt to control, drumming up only half-hearted surprises and scares?

There's more potential in an early scene in which Samantha announces to AJ that she's pregnant, brandishing her drugstore test like a weapon. A compelling human drama could be made out of that, in which characters laugh and cry and share feelings and dreams. Granted, it's not as commercially viable as The Curse of Wolf Mountain, but that film could be a tidy little chamber piece.

And best of all, you'd never have to leave the house.


The Curse of Wolf Mountain (a.k.a. Wolf Mountain). Directed by David Lipper, 2022. Released by Uncork'd Entertainment. 94 minutes. On digital platforms and DVD.

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