Altitude is the kind of film that helps you understand that we are both so close to having another Golden Age of Cinema and so very, very far away. The craft put to work here is impressive but these filmmakers commit such elementary storytelling mistakes that it's like listening to a beautiful voice that sings every 7th note in the wrong octave. The result is a movie that manages to be equally okay and off putting.
5 young people of either late teens or college age, it's never really clear, decide to fly a twin prop plane to see a concert. Once in the air, a mechanical problem causes the plane to go higher and higher until it flies into a magic storm cloud containing a monster that looks like a giant meat ball with a couple of spaghetti strands writing around it. Tension rises along with the plane as the young people yell at each other a lot until a Twilight ZoneCreepshow twist is pulled out of Amelia Earhart's ass.
I know that doesn't sound like an "okay" film, but the story is the absolute worst part of this entire production. The direction, camera movement, editing, pacing, set design, special effects and even the acting are all pretty good. All of that can only amount to so much, however, if the story stinks and this one has a fairly strong odor about it.
To start with, none of these characters are likable and some of them barely qualify as characters. There's "the jock so obnoxious you wish he died in the first 15 minutes" and his girlfriend, "the one with the video camera". Those two are joined by "guy with guitar" and "creepily needy boyfriend" while the star of things is "bitch who's stringing her creepily needy boyfriend along". Do any of those sound like people you'd like to spend 90 minutes with? Despite yeoman work from the young cast playing these poorly conceived roles for all they're worth, you can't care about any of them and that cripples anything else Altitude tries to do.
The plot also starts out solidly grounded in real world peril, tries to drum up some interpersonal conflict then veers off into a supernaturalsci-fi conclusion. There's nothing inherently wrong with that recipe. The problem is that none of the ingredients are connected to each other. The external dangers need to be interlinked with the emotional battles between the characters where each flow into and reinforce the other. For example, Character A hates Character B. They're stuck in an out of control plane. The fear and stress from that exaggerates the animosity between them, which leads to actions that exacerbate the bad situation. That sort of stuff only happens in the most rudimentary ways and only between a couple of the characters. And when the fantasy twist comes in, there's nothing in the rest of the story that foreshadows it or gives it any context or meaning beyond being a "fantasy twist". That kind of change of direction works only when it seems to come out of nowhere but is actually the culmination of pieces of the story coming together in a way you didn't expect. There's nothing clever about arbitrarily inserting supernatural forces into an otherwise realistic tale.
It's a shame because the folks who made Altitude both know what to do with a camera and what to do with their actors. There are plenty of people in the motion picture business who can't do either of those things, let alone both. The cast, highlighted by Jessica Lowndes as "bitch who's stringing along her creepily needy boyfriend" and Jake Weary as "jock so obnoxious you wish he died in the first 15 minutes", all seem like they'd be very entertaining to watch in something written a lot better.
I almost long for the return of the studio system when I see a movie like Altitude. There are so many talented filmmakers out there who have never been forced to learn the basics of what makes a story work and why. The result is films where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Review by MBunge from the Internet Movie Database.