The tragic events on Mount Everest in May of 1996 claimed the lives of eight people, and led to many questions being asked about the commercialisation of the mountain. Making a Hollywood movie about it nearly twenty years later therefore comes with its own questions of taste and appropriateness, but Icelandic director Baltasur Kormakur (whose eclectic CV includes the underrated Jar City) manages to stay just the right side of respectful while depicting a compelling portrayal of the grim and unforgiving gaze of nature.

Getting his cast actually up a damn mountain instead of hiding behind a comfortable wall of greenscreen makes for a visceral impact, as does knowing just how badly things went wrong over those few days – the film revolves around an overwhelming sense of dread. For once, shooting it with IMAX cameras is fully justified; the sheer scale of what its characters face comes across with with brutal clarity. Around all this impressive spectacle is a pretty dry narrative – but anything else would have probably fallen into the very trap of exploitation that the filmmakers clearly strove to avoid.

Making an action film about recent tragic deaths is always somewhat questionable5
Thankfully, things are kept coldly realistic and largely true to life8
Female characters are heavily sidelined, though this is a constraint of depicting events truthfully6
The docudrama feel to the narrative is limited, but a better choice than sexing things up7
An attempt is made to convey a spectacular sense of scale, and it succeeds8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The named female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I'm pretty sure they only talk about men
7Overall Score

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