'Donner Pass' Examiner.com DVD Review, Written by: Karen Benardello
Debating a legend focused on murderers and cannibals is an easy set-up for horror films, but is surprisingly effective in the new movie ‘Donner Pass.’ The low-budget, independent movie, which is now available to rent on DVD at select Long Island Redbox locations, incorporates the highly controversial Donner Party into a modern-day teen murder story. Not only does the film include strong-willed characters willing to stand up for themselves, it also features a different perspective on the American legend and the normal blood and gore included in the horror genre.
‘Donner Pass’ starts off in 1846, showing how the infamous Donner Party became lost and snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The few survivors that are remaining have to resort to cannibalism in order to survive, much to their disdain. Three of the remaining men are brutally killed and eaten by another pioneer, before the horror film switches to the present day. Teenager Kaylee (played by Desiree Hall), her boyfriend, Mike (portrayed by Colley Bailey) and her cousin, Nicole (played by Adelaide Kane), all take a trip to their new friend Thomas’ (portrayed by Erik Stocklin) cabin in the mountains.
Kaylee and Thomas become upset when Nicole’s boyfriend Derek (played by Dominic DeVore) surprisingly shows up at the cabin with several of their friends. Mike convinces Kaylee and Thomas to let Derek and the group stay, in an effort to improve his social status in school. However, members of the group quickly start turning up not only dead, but half-eaten as well. Everyone initially assumes Epstein (portrayed by John Kassir), a local accused of murder who is on the loose, is responsible for the killings, until a surprising connection to the Donner Party is revealed.
Elise Robertson, who is making her feature film debut with ‘Donner Pass,’ surprisingly was able to balance the murders and gore typically seen in horror movies with strong, contrasting characters. The director successfully set up the tumultuous relationships between the main characters, who all have different outlooks on life and their social status before introducing the Donner Party horror element into the story. The movie serves as a reflection of teens who only care about how others perceive them and their relationship and social statuses, until they surprisingly bond together in a time of need.
Kaylee is a memorable leader of the group, as she’s not afraid to voice her opinions and stand up for what she believes in. Hall was the perfect casting choice to portray Kaylee, as she convincingly made the other characters around her question their decisions and actions. Kaylee isn’t the typical female horror lead who has to rely on other people to take care of her during periods of murder and horror; she willingly embraces the challenge of trying to protect everyone else.
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