Climbing has never been something that really appealed to me. Aside from feeling like my arms would fall off I’m also not big on heights so it’s not really a combo that works for me. That being said, you can absolutely have a fun movie about it. This one is okay but my only issue is that the climbing itself can be a bit dull. I felt like the movie never reached that second gear where it could really differentiate itself and make a difference. Still if you are looking for a run of the mill thriller type film then this should still work out well enough for you.
The movie starts with Peter and Annie climbing a big mountain with their father and a bunch of other climbers but unfortunately there is an accident which causes a lot of them to fall. This causes the main characters to fall as well and the line connecting them isn’t strong enough to carry all of their weights. This causes Peter to have to make the very hard decision to cut their father free at his request so that he falls away and the other two live. Years pass and Annie has never forgiven Peter for this. She continues to climb in honor of their father while Peter has decided to completely retire. They are both coping in their own way but now Annie is about to go on a super difficult expedition and Peter is worried that she is going at this too hard as if she has something to prove. She denies this and decides to continue on as planned but when things go sideways it is up to Peter to save the day.
It can be a little rough to see Annie blaming him for everything but considering the stakes of what happened, I can’t blame her for holding a grudge for all these years. I disagree with her blaming him for this but at the end of the day once she does then that is a grudge which can go on for your whole life because losing a life is not something that ever goes away. She also does take a few too many risks although at the end of the day many main characters take risks so it’s not like that’s a really novel thing either. Ultimately she decided to shoot her shot even if it didn’t go very well here.
See, she is climbing one of the tallest mountains in the world along with a rich man named Elliott and one of the world’s greatest climbers in Tom. Elliott is desperate to climb this mountain so even when Peter and the team back at base tell them to turn back he refuses. He is getting to the top of that mountain and says that nobody is going to be able to stop him. At that point you can either turn back or follow him but it’s hard to actually stop him. That was certainly the best time to back away but unfortunately they don’t and they all get trapped. With a very limited amount of supplies it is only a matter of time until they turn on each other.
On Peter’s side he has quite a few people helping on the rescue mission but you figure that most of them are probably doomed at this point. Usually in any survival type film like this you can expect a modest body count because you can’t just have everyone make it all the way to the top. That would just feel too easy and so the cold starts to wear them down. The movie does a good job of showing just how cold the whole place is and how you even have to use an oxygen device of sorts to keep enough air in your body. It was pretty interesting.
My main issue though is that climbing can be quite repetitive and this film was no exception. Long chunks of the film are just about climbing up and slowly trying to get to the top. Not a bad thing by any means since that’s the point of the film but you need to spice things up like having them dodge avalanches a lot or something. Because the scenes quickly all start to blend together as they keep climbing the endless amounts of snow. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a snowy mountain which makes this all the more apparent but all the terrain just looks the same. So it’s like you’ve got a few scenes on loop and that doesn’t help the overall experinece.
I actually thought the film was more interesting near the beginning as we meet the characters and get a lot of banter. There is also a mysterious character named Wick who is a full longer when it comes to climbing. He seems to have some beef with Elliott and this leads into a whole emotional backstory. Wick makes for a good character and he’s definitely not someone that you want to cross. In terms of overall climbing talent he would likely be the best one here.
You feel bad for some of the other climbers who are good but just have bad luck. For example there are two climbers who seem really skilled and can hold their own. The problem is that nobody told them that the explosives they were carrying were triggered by heat aka sunlight. Nobody knew this but they happened to be the ones who were told too late. It was a death that felt pretty much unavoidable for them so that’s why it was tragic. The rescue mission to save a few ended up costing a few and so it ends up being a whole cycle. At the end of the day of course you do have to do everything you can to save the people who were trapped/stranded though even if the burden is rather high. Especially since Peter was saving family but even if they had been strangers it is the right thing to do.
Wick’s subplot does add some drama here so that helps to enhance the story somewhat. Tom was also a good character but my only issue with him is that at the end of the day he folded. He knew that continuing with the climb was a bad idea but allowed Elliott to pressure him into continuing anyway. On the mountains and in life in general you have to trust your instincts. The instant you abandon them is when everything is lost because those are what you need to trust at all costs. Once he was frozen/sick you knew that things weren’t going to go great for him.
Meanwhile Elliott is quite unrepentant in how he will do whatever it takes to survive. This is someone that you absolutely can’t trust under any circumstance. He will always save himself first when the chips are down, that’s all there is to it. That alone is enough to make him the main antagonist here. It’s the kind of film that didn’t need a main villain per say but I think he works well enough. You’re constantly waiting for someone to take him down.
Overall, Vertical Limit may not be the most engaging film but it’s a fundamentally sound one. It doesn’t make any big mistakes and the cast isn’t bad. Wick would probably be the more interesting main character but his plot did get full closure and a resolution so he worked well within his role. It may not be my first recommendation for you but if you’re looking for a very specific sub genre of climbing then you can do pretty well with this one. You’ll probably feel cold while watching it too since there is so much ice everywhere.