Director: Scott Waugh
Writer(s): Madison Turner, Eric LeMarque (book)
Release Date: 13 October, 2017
The true story of Eric LeMarque (Josh Hartnett), a former professional ice-hockey player and crystal meth addict who survived for eight days in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after he inexplicably decided to snowboard down a sub-zero mountainside in the middle of the night. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “cold turkey”, let me tell you.
It – perhaps ironically – warms up towards the end, but getting to that point is a slog only slightly more interesting than, say, painting your living room wall and watching it dry. In a typical tale of endurance and resilience, this one set in a frozen wilderness, LeMarque is plagued by all kinds of problems, from hypothermia to frostbite to starvation to dehydration to hungry wolves. But his biggest issue, at least at first, is stupidity.
I don’t mean that it’s stupid for a talented pro athlete to abandon their game of choice and become a junkie. That’s hardly smart, but LeMarque has his reasons for it, which helpful flashbacks will explain to us in due time. No, the problem with LeMarque, and the reason why it’s so difficult, initially, to root for and empathise with him, is that the film characterises him as being relentlessly stupid. One of the first things we see him do is head onto the deck of his mountain cabin in shorts and no shoes, and then accidentally lock himself out. The next time we see him he’s eating roadside snow – an act so universally recognised as idiotic that a woman (a search-and-rescue chief played by Sarah Dumont) pulls over just to inform him he’s an idiot. What he does next is what gets him stuck: He goes out snowboarding with a bag of meth in his pocket.
It’s true though, right?
As far as I know. I haven’t read Crystal Clear, which is the account of his ordeal LeMarque wrote with David Seay, and from which 6 Below has been adapted by Madison Turner. I can’t imagine he’d make himself seem as silly as this film does. Nor, I suspect, would he write himself as such as a clichéd cipher. LeMarque, here, quotes aloud and at length from the Book of Romans, credits God with his salvation, and blames his hard-drinking, hockey-coach father (Jason Cottle) for his failures. It’s probably all true, but almost certainly not in the way it’s presented here. We’re treated to made-for-TV-quality flashbacks which explain his dad’s obsession with success, the self-sabotaging of his own career, and his descent into drug addiction, which is possibly more than we need to know. Then again, it’s at least more than what happens on the mountainside.
What, he doesn’t have to tear his arm off or drink his own piss?
Nah, he just wanders aimlessly and occasionally falls down. At one point he shouts at some wolves. I don’t mean to undermine LeMarque’s struggle, of course, but his story being true is what hems it in. Director Scott Waugh is evidently worried about straying too far from reality, but he’s also concerned about making LeMarque look bad, so all his figurative demons (drugs, particularly) are dealt with briefly and coyly. There’s just nothing much here. 6 Below is as featureless as the harsh, sheer mountainside on which LeMarque finds himself stranded.
Is there anything that you did like?
The scenes which involve LeMarque’s distraught mother (Mira Sorvino), especially those she shares with Dumont’s character, are appreciably more bearable. The climax does descend into schmaltz, but these two women are compelling in their grief and worry, so the film around them feels less frosty. I also have to give credit to Waugh for downplaying the religiosity that LeMarque is evidently prone to, because the last thing a film about the untamed savagery of nature needed was a god-bothering subtext.
Stay warm, folks.
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