Everest (review)

Despite a spectacular setting and cast, Everest is ultimately underwhelming.

There’s a question that is likely to have occurred to anyone who’s ever seen a ‘cabin in the woods’ type horror film: instead of waiting to be murdered, why don’t the hapless teen victims just get the hell out of there? The fact the characters ignore every human’s primal ‘flight’ reflex seems to defy credibility. The response of the protagonists in Everest is no less mystifying. Yet these characters are based on real people who facing real peril doggedly fought to face it for longer.

More than two hundred people have died trying to climb the world’s highest peak. 14 of them in a single day in 1996. Everest  is a fictionalisation of that tragedy. It follows two teams of climbers as they make the ascent to the summit and towards disaster.

This is inherently interesting subject matter. Man vs nature is a narrative theme as venerable as storytelling. And mountaineering has been used to make impressive films before, my favourite example being Kevin Macdonald’s documentary Touching the Void. And what is more there can be few more dramatic backdrops than the Himalayas.  Everest does about as good a job of showing this natural beauty as it can without actually flying you out to Nepal and the vistas the filmmakers capture deserve a short film of their own. And that’s supplemented by the more down to earth but still impressive spectacle of a cast that includes Jake Gyllenhal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brollin, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Michael Kelly, Keira Knightley and Elizabeth Debicki.

Despite all of this, Everest doesn’t quite work. It has a certain gravitas but it’s borrowed from its setting, the real life tragedy that inspired it and the respect the audience has for the actors they are watching. Little of it is earned by the film in its own right. For reasons I cannot quite identify the presentation feels quite pedestrian and the film does little to make itself more compelling than a BBC4 documentary about mountaineering.

I also found that the question I posed at the start – why the hell they don’t just turn back – bothered me throughout the film. It ultimately made it hard for to relate to the characters I was supposed to be fearing for. The screenwriters make some attempt to use a journalist within the group to interrogate their motivations for taking such astonishing gambles but ultimately was is not enough.  Death seems a high price to stand atop any rock even one magnificent as Everest.

Summary: 6/10 – A reasonable effort but one that gets by more on quantity than quality.