FrightFest VOD film review: Downhill
Anton Bitel | On 28, Aug 2016
Director: Patricio Valladares
Cast: Natalie Burn, Bryce Draper, Ignacia Allamand, Ariel Levy, Luke Massy, Eyal Meyer
Watch Downhill online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Acid’s beautiful, isn’t it?” These are the first words heard (or misheard) in Downhill, after an aerial shot reveals woodlands below – and they are followed by images of a distressed woman tied to a makeshift altar and being force-fed a live worm- or centipede-like creature by a robed priestess who reassures her: “You should be honoured: to carry him is to be blessed.” All this is a flashforward, offering us glimpses of where the narrative is headed – and when we hear that opening line later, in context, it will become clear that the speaker does not in fact say ‘acid’ after all. Nonetheless, the film comes front-loaded with hints of lysergic freakouts and monstrous rituals – and in more ways than one, it’s all downhill from there.
Despite all the narrative fores(t)hadowing in this impressionistic prologue (and a running duration of under 90 minutes), Downhill does not so much barrel along as take its sweet time working out what sort of film it is going to be – although it knows from the outset that it is aiming low in its appeal. “Taking a shit on a hill,” says Charlie (Eyal Meyer), as though laying out the film’s programme. “That’s not so easy, you know.”
Charlie, his fellow downhill mountain biker, Joe (Bryce Draper), and Joe’s girlfriend, Stephanie (Natalie Burn – also the victim from the prologue), are all filming one another with GoPro cams mounted on their helmets, suggesting that Downhill will be yet another first-person horror flick. By the film’s halfway mark, such intra-diegetic camerawork has been almost entirely abandoned (apart from an anguished Blair Witch Project-style video diary confession that clumsily retells what has already been shown), but an element of literal ‘found footage’ will return, rather pointlessly, in the final scenes.
This is not all that seems pointless in a plot that drifts and meanders towards its foretold destination. Joe’s reluctant return to racing, and his half-hearted resumption of an affair with Magdalena (Ignacia Allamand), all come across as unnecessary and uneconomic padding – as do the endless leering shots of Stephanie’s ass (not always focalised through voyeuristic villains). It becomes obvious, once Joe and Stephanie have arrived in Chile for Joe’s big comeback, that this is to be a fish-out-of-water story, with the characters’ linguistic isolation only adding to the film’s growing sense of paranoid entrapment – and their run-in with rape-happy ‘locals’ in a bar is pure cliché (once again, a scene that hardly advances the plot).
“You watch too many bad movies,” Joe tells Charlie – and so has director/co-writer Patricio Valladares, whose previous film Hidden In The Woods (En Las Afueras de La Ciudad, 2012, remade in English in 2014) was a knowing patchwork of 70s exploitation postures and shock tactics. Yet in Downhill, even after a virulent infection, murderous hunters, Satanic cabals, a Lovecraftian parasite and a cabin in the woods are thrown into the mix, the results remain dull and incoherent. Despite all its high-stakes ingredients, Downhill comes to a crashing descent. Blame gravity.
Downhill is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.