One shouldn’t blame Elise Robertson’s feature directorial debut Donner Pass for being an absolutely horrible film. In the vein of straight-to-DVD horror about kids going into the woods and dying, the direction is competent enough in that you won’t outright consider it terrible. All of the blame for this film rests squarely on the shoulders of first-time writer R. Scott Adams, whose script is filled with every manner of contrived plot points, annoying stock characters, and lazy dialogue imaginable.
Opening with a brief scene explaining the supposed “untold history” of the Donner Party, wherein George Donner gruesomely killed and ate his party members, the film quickly transitions to standard slasher fodder. A group of high school students – the “couple,” the outcast, and the raging bitch – are headed into the woods for a weekend at the outcast’s parents’ cabin. The catch? The cabin is located in the Donner Pass, the site of the aforementioned pseudo-fictional cannibal tale. After the unexpected arrival of the raging bitch’s boyfriend and his drunk buddies, the body count begins to pile up as an unknown assailant begins to pick them off one by one. Add inner turmoil among the friends and you have a recipe for really stupid kids doing really stupid things in an effort to stay alive.
Cheesy dialogue spewed out of the mouths of bad actors pervades the film as each character is picked off in mildly gruesome, yet ultimately unoriginal, ways. Given the focus on cannibalism, chest cavities are splayed open, necks are gnawed upon, and copious amounts of blood flows as this hour and a half long film plods along into familiar slasher territory. Some praise can be given to Robertson’s direction, as she imbued in the film an aesthetic pleasantry so that, although you were watching trash, it was at least easy on the eyes.
This much can be said of the aforementioned ten minute stretch wherein we’re suddenly transported to a different film, one that’s gritty and violent in a way that belies its slasher film roots. When combined with the music, reminiscent of 28 Days Later, you get the impression that this was the movie Robertson wanted to make. It’s violent, disturbing, and features the one instance where we’re given something beyond standard slasher fodder. Unfortunately, it takes approximately an hour and twenty minutes to get there, and although certainly interesting, it does little to redeem the rest of the film.