Directed by: Rachel House
Written by: Rachel House, Tom Furniss
Starring: Elizabeth Atkinson, Terence Daniel, Reuben Francis, Bryan Coll, Troy Kingi, Sukena Shah
Released: June 27, 2024
Grade: B-

The Mountain

52-year-old New Zealand actress Rachel House has made a career out of creating funny, distinctive characters.  Some of her best work has been under the guidance of Oscar winning writer-director Taika Waititi with supporting roles in Eagle vs Shark, Boy and Thor: Ragnarok.  My favourite House performance was in Hunt for the Wilderpeople where she played a darkly comedic social worker who, as part of a manhunt, channelled Tommy Lee Jones’s character in The Fugitive.

Having spent decades in front of the camera, The Mountain provides an opportunity for House to stand behind the camera as director for the first time.  Writer Tom Furniss (7 Days) created the initial script with House injecting a dose of Māori culture to craft something closer to her own values.  If you’re wondering about the title, much of the 4-week shoot took place at Mount Taranaki, the second highest mountain on New Zealand’s North Island.

In the same vein as American films like Five Feet Apart and The Fault in Our Stars, The Mountain is a story about young people dealing with terminal illnesses.  Sam (Atkinson) is an 11-year-old battling cancer who is tired of being cooped up in hospital.  Aided by a fellow patient, she escapes one morning and goes on a mountain hiking expedition to learn more about herself and the world.  Along the way she meets two other kids, of similar age, who tag along as they flee problems of their own.

The Mountain isn’t offering a huge deal.  It’s a short, 89-minute feature with a few silly laughs and a few moments of genuine drama.  The three child leads, who had no prior acting experience, struggle to deliver their lines with authenticity and conviction (it does feel over-scripted).  The better material has been saved for the quirky adult characters (the parents) but their screentime is limited as the children’s formulaic coming-of-age adventures are the focus,

I warmed to the film more in the second half as the kids head deeper into the mountain range and develop closer friendships.  House weaves Māori legends into the narrative which are mildly interesting… but she struggles to use them in a way which leaves an emotional footprint.  I wasn’t always convinced the characters believed in their own journey and the end goal.  The script also needed more drama.

Showcasing New Zealand’s beautiful landscapes (it’s such a great part of the world to be filming), The Mountain is a simplistic offering for families over the current school holidays.