6 Below is the true story of how ex-hockey player Eric LeMarque (Josh Hartnett), survived eight days alone in the High Sierras, during a huge snowstorm.
True tales of survival are a daunting challenge for a screenwriter, chiefly because the audience already knows the outcome. 6 Below is subtitled ‘Miracle On The Mountain’ after all, not ‘Man Dies Slowly And Coldly On The Mountain’. Furthermore, LeMarque is named as executive producer on the opening credits. We know that he makes it back down to civilisation. With the ending pre-written, it’s vital that we’re given a journey that’s worth it, and a character we can get behind. On both counts, 6 Below falls flat.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about 6 Below is how generic it seems, especially when you consider that, as the opening title card so boldly proclaims, it ‘is a true story’. As well as boasting LeMarque as an executive producer, the film features him on-screen in an awkward epilogue. With all that access to LeMarque, 6 Below should have been rich in specificity. It should have given us a real sense of what he went through, physically and mentally, to survive alone on the mountain for eight freezing days.
Instead what we have is just a cobbled-together version of every survival movie there’s ever been. There’s the mandatory animal confrontation (though the ‘wolves’ shown in the same shot as Hartnett look very much like huskies…), the phone with the dwindling battery (we actually get a radio with a dwindling battery here too), and the near-miss rescue attempt. Nothing happens that we haven’t seen before – the one exception being when, driven by hunger, Eric is forced to eat the flesh from his frostbitten leg. Even that loses its grisly power, however, as the scene is repeated twice more.Much more generic than the action is the character of Eric. In the opening voiceover narration, he tells us, ‘Hockey was my sport, and that became my drug’. Through a series of flashbacks, to kill time when we’re stuck up the mountain, we learn that a literal drug addiction had destroyed his hockey career and left him floundering. And that’s all we know about him. He’s an ex-hockey playing drug addict. The paper-thin script never gives us any more of an idea of his character. He never once seems like a fully-fledged human being, which is particularly disappointing considering that he is one.
There are many failures in this movie, but they can’t be attributed to the two leads. Josh Hartnett does his best with very little to work with. Mira Sorvino, playing Eric’s mother, is actually quite good – although her big emotional speech about mothers and sons is undercut by the utter blankness of her scene partner, Sarah Dumont.
No, the main failures in 6 Below are all attributable to the writing. Beyond the thin characters and the seen-it-all-before action, one moment sticks out as laughably bad. On the way up the mountain, Eric waits for a ride, eating snow. You know, as you do (!). This gives Sarah (Dumont) a chance to tell him the ‘four reasons’ why eating snow is a bad idea, in what is simultaneously the most unnatural exchange of the movie (and it does not lack for unnatural exchanges), and one of the least subtle cases of foreshadowing this reviewer has ever seen.
Despite the lead actors’ plucky attempts at bringing life to the seriously lacking screenplay, 6 Below is ultimately an endurance test of a movie.
6 Below is out on Digital and DVD now, courtesy of Signature Entertainment