‘Dead Mountain’ is a Russian Take on the Hard-Boiled Detective Drama but Lacks the Gritty Allure Needed for the Genre

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In 1959, a group of students, led by fellow engineering student and avid wilderness explorer Igor Dyatlov (Ivan Mulin), went on a hiking expedition in the Sverdlovsk mountains. They never made it to their destination. Shortly after, bodies were found on the mountain. No one knows the truth about what happened – except for one man. 

Enter Oleg Kostin (Pyotr Fyodorov). A major in the KGB, Oleg has been sent from Moscow to the region to examine the bodies. Upon his arrival, Oleg meets up with Vasily (Aleksey Bardukov), another ranking officer stationed up north who is leading the investigation, and Ekaterina (Mariya Lugovaya), the medical examiner assigned to the case. Nine corpses were discovered some distance from their campsite, frozen, battered and wearing little clothing. 

As Oleg begins to dive deeper into the cases, he is confronted not only with half-truths and bizarre, though startling revelations, but memories of his past from his recent service during the Second World War. As the atrocities of his visions start to seep over into his current life, Oleg does his best to brush them aside and focus on the Dyatlov case despite how enigmatic it seems. But secrets are buried deep within Oleg himself just as they are in the snow – not all mysteries are destined to be solved, and not all people are meant to be saved. 

Based upon real declassified files, of which spurred on thousands of conspiracy theories, director Evgeny Nikishov weaves adventure and war, life and death, fiction and nonfiction together, and the result is Dead Mountain. 

Viewers are thrown into the action immediately within the opening ten minutes or so, but the initial excitement soon fades.  The setting is characterised by shades of dark blue, sombre grey and blinding white, and a perilous expanse plagued by blizzards and freezing temperatures. The environment is the most malevolent of antagonists, reducing even the most experienced of men to warped, dead things. 

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Oleg as a character is quiet, yet extremely astute. Throughout the series he suffers from vivid war flashbacks, and he is no stranger to mutilated corpses, thanks to uncovering evidence of the Nazis torturous actions against concentration camp victims and enemy soldiers alike. Oleg is very much the central focus of the show, and Fyodorov does a nice job bringing his tale to life through a hard-boiled inspired narrative. 

The rest of the cast is good but not great, but they’re able to carry the plot forward, nonetheless. Any chemistry between the players, such as the budding relationship between Oleg and Ekaterina, just scratches at the surface. Emotion is shown, but any depth and rawness is absent during character interactions. 

Overall, the series is interesting when it focuses on the Dyatlov Incident exclusively, but seriously drags when it dives in and out of Oleg’s personal affairs or providing background on the victims prior to their deaths. Each episode, especially the flashback sequences, are edited to produce a dark and near-delirious atmosphere. These scenes are drenched in a too-sharp filter, which heightens the tension and the violent strangeness of Oleg’s experiences. 

The background score and the choppy, off-centre camera angles work well with this eastern take on the pulp inspired investigative viewpoint. A 16mm film camera was used to shoot the ‘present day’ scenes, and the slightly grainy, dulled colour that comes through on screen compliments such a direction. 

The series is composed of eight episodes, each with a runtime of approximately 50 minutes. More revelations slowly unfold as the show continues, and it is these, far-scattered moments that make the show worth at least a single watch. 

Dead Mountain is premiering weekly on Topic from September 2nd

by Kacy Hogg

Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, CinderellaCaptain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95

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