Blu-Review: Altitude

Directed By Kaare Andrews
Starring Jessica Lowndes, Landon Liboiro, Julianna Guill, Jake Weary and Ryan Donowho



Student pilot Sara (Jessica Lowndes) rents a small charter plain with her high school friends to take them to a Coldplay concert as a last summer adventure before she jets off to college. With her motley crew in tow – her geeky comic-loving boyfriend Bruce, musician cousin Cory (Ryan Donowho), best friend Mel (Julianna Guill) and Mel’s ‘roid rage jock boyfriend Sal (Jake Weary) – the gang take to the skies for what should be a routine, 90 minute flight. But after a shaky patch of turbulence, part of the plane’s manifold comes loose, lodging the elevator, and Sara finds herself unable to level the plane or decelerate, flying directly into an electrical storm. With malfunctioning equipment, no visibility and no radio contact, things look grim for the teens as fuel starts to burn out with no sign of the ground. Dwindling fuel will be the least of their worries, though, as something monstrous lurks in the clouds waiting to pick the plane apart.

Feeling incredibly familiar in spirit to genre shows like The Outer Limits and the Twilight Zone or EC Comics’ horror stories (a ‘Weird Stories’ comic pops up in the movie to hammer home the source of inspiration), Altitude is a taut and effective little film, but there are moments when it feels like it would be more at home as a segment in a larger anthology movie. The gang themselves are cookie cutter stereotypes on paper, from the socially awkward comic book geek to the aggressive, bullying jock (who’s even sporting a letterman jacket just to hammer home the stereotype home). But for the most part, the character work is meted out with surprising finesse (at least for this kind of movie) and the likeable Sara’s backstory is surprisingly well fleshed out without resorting to much lazy exposition. The shockingly good cast do a great job even with unlikeable characters and manage to elevate the material that much more – all the more surprising considering they’re all alumni of cringeworthy teen soaps like 90210 and Degrassi.
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Even so, the character conflict quickly starts to grate as things start to go awry, leading to lengthy bouts of aggressive yelling and screeching and plenty of wishing that jock Sal would just die horribly. Of course, it wouldn’t be a teen horror movie without at least one insufferable dickbag to wish a bloody demise upon, but after the fifteenth random explosive argument, things quickly shift from tense to shrill. With a chunk of the sometimes patience-trying character drama trimmed and the story pared down to the essentials and bookended by a couple more tales similar in spirit, Altitude would likely be a much greater work of genre entertainment.

Flaws and all, though, it’s still an incredibly entertaining little horror flick with accomplished directing far beyond its straight-to-video trappings. Character bickering aside, the suspenseful story is a tight and thrilling one, and though you may well guess the ending ahead of time, the third act revelations still prove satisfying. Director Kaare Andrews – former writer and artist for an array of Marvel Comics titles – applies his artistic experience to the film’s visuals with a great command of the frame, while getting a baffling amount of mileage out of a tiny budget. The film looks fantastic (and not just because much of it is spent gazing at Jessica Lowndes’ gorgeous face) with the opening plane accident providing an especially impressive visual set piece.
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Altitude finds itself somewhere between the tense teens-in-peril shocks of Frozen and the supernatural weirdness of a great episode of Tales From The Crypt or The Outer Limits. And though it’s never quite as effective as either, skewing towards occasional predictability and lending a little too much time to the trying social drama of its sometimes grating characters, it’s still an incredibly solid and entertaining little horror treat. With a surprisingly talented cast, well-executed thrills and a twisty Twilight Zone story that delivers a satisfying pay-off, this is one straight-to-video horror gem that sticks its landing.
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As mentioned above, visually Altitude is a huge cut above the usual direct-to-video outing and looks great on Blu-ray. The early daylight scenes offer crystal clear detail, though past the thirty minute mark, the film becomes much darker visually. The Blu-ray transfer handles the darker scenes just fine, but there’s naturally less detail than in its early, more brightly-lit moments. Overall, though, it’s a great transfer that presents the film well. The audio side of things is even more impressive; dialogue is clear as a bell, there’s excellent, lively and immersive use of the surrounds and the bass gets a heavy workout during the many scenes of enclosed airborne chaos.

The special features are surprisingly stacked for a direct-to-disc horror movie, too. Kaare Andrews provides an audio commentary, and while it’s probably not a film that anyone will be clambering to check out a commentary for, it’s an engaging enough listen. Altitude: Behind the Scenes offers a 50 minute ‘Making Of’ documentary that covers the entire production process from script to screen in a surprisingly informative and entertaining look at the filmmaking process. A second featurette titled ‘Green Storm’ is comprised of 10 minutes worth of raw green screen footage, with voiceover from Andrews and snippets of the script overlayed to give an idea of the huge leap from pre to post effects footage. ‘Original Concepts Gallery’ contains a wealth of Kaare’s hand-drawn storyboards, which look as dynamic as you’d expect from someone who worked primarily as a comic book artist. The storyboards for an alternate ending are included in there, too. Finally, the film’s trailer rounds out the extras.

The Film:

The Blu-ray:




Altitude is out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.

(Note: The images above were captured and saved at a reduced quality, and though they give an idea of how the film looks, they aren’t intended to reflect the true quality of the Blu-ray image itself.)