The Mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident Is Must See TV
The new Russian tv series Dead Mountain brings to the screen the decades old mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Incident that became a viral internet sensation. For sixty years conspiracy enthusiasts have wondered about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of nine student hikers in the Ural Mountains in 1959. Podcasts like My Favorite Murder, Bedtime Stories, and The Fellas Mysteries have tackled the story, but Dead Mountain imagines what really might have happened through innovative cinematography and twisted backstories.
The students' dead bodies were found scattered across the mountain with strange wounds, sparking a series of theories that kept getting weirder as more evidence was revealed. Was the group running from some kind of attack? Did one of them go crazy and turn on the others? Other theories have included UFO interference, radiation poisoning, an avalanche, military weapons testing, and evil mountain spirits. The possibilities are basically endless, and that’s why people have pondered over the mystery for so long. Dead Mountain brings the story to life by testing out the validity of some of the most popular theories, and uses recently declassified files and archives from the Russian government to develop the storyline.
One of the writers of the show, Ilya Kulikov, also worked on the recent series that brought the Chernobyl disaster to life. Fans of that show, as well as Russian cult classics like Tarkovsky’s Stalker, recent KGB-centric spy thriller The Americans, or short form true crime like Netflix’s Unbelievable will find their next TV passion in Dead Mountain.
Dead Mountain builds on the established success of the modern noir crime series while elevating the genre to new heights.
Here are some of the reasons why the Dyatlov Pass incident will be your next television obsession.
Unexplained events have a natural obsessive draw
Even before the Dyatlov Pass Incident, the area was already referred to as the Mountain of the Dead. The factors of the case created a tinderbox of intrigue and long term speculation.
Recently declassified documents provided the perfect inroad for the series to recreate an investigation from the huge number of theories that have developed over the last sixty years. Scientific evidence is paired with lore from the local Mansi people to attempt to explain the unexplainable, aided by dynamic characters that intersperse real events with fascinating fictional storylines. These days, strange incidents and disappearances are investigated from every angle by professionals and amateurs alike, and the information is available online for anyone to discover and piece together. In 1959, when the hikers disappeared this wasn’t the case. Some of the information involved has simply been lost to time, and that means that our imaginations will be running overdrive to fill in the blanks.
When the medical examiner, Katya, dissects the bodies of the dead, we’re treated to another form of investigation: how the wounds of a body can tell the stories that dead people can’t tell themselves. It’s a lot like watching the forensics team work on Law & Order SVU—except instead of sex crimes, Katya is trying to figure out the motives of a much more elusive source of violence.
Blending real backstories with fascinating new characters makes for a complex web of relationships
The hikers portrayed in the series are based on the real identities of the Urals Polytechnic Institute students who disappeared. You’ll feel intense emotions watching them—the dynamic actors make you realize just how young the students were when they undertook this dangerous hike. The characters were written based on the diaries of the real-life victims, and when the students pose for photos in the series, they’re based on real life photographs found on the film of one of the hikers' cameras!
The fictional KGB officer, Oleg Kostin, sent to investigate the accident, has a backstory that is equally gripping. His investigation is confidential, and his backstory is just as mysterious. Flashbacks show him enduring horrible trauma in the final months of World War II, with now-dead comrades who bear mysterious connections to the people he encounters while investigating the Dyatlov deaths.
Put together, this is quite the molotov cocktail of truth and fiction, which is what makes for the most compelling stories. You're not only enraptured by the narrative, you’re also put on the hunt to figure out which parts of the story are factual, which are educated guesses, and which are believable fictions based on the national climate at the time the incident took place.
Spine tingling storm scenes and gruesome special effects make for a viewing experience rivaling the disaster films of the big screen
Against the backdrop of the majestic Ural mountains, the cinematography perfectly captures the weather growing more dangerous. Modern filmmaking makes the dire scenery come alive in a way that brings the terrifying weather home for those of us in calmer climates. Outdoorsy viewers will think twice about their next winter hike after the storm scenes!
Stark black and white 4x3 film captures the hiker's ill-fated journey. The investigation, meanwhile, is shot in a somber muted style, and the flashbacks to the war appear in garish rich hues. The footage combines historical elements with fantastical images, dreams, and supernatural elements. From a strange German torture castle to the apartments of cosmopolitan Moscow, the sets are so specifically and carefully curated that you’ll wish there was a different spin-off series for every one. The different styles bring a visual excitement to the surreal narrative.
Dead Mountain sits at a crossroads in 20th century history
In 1959, Russia was still the USSR, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Satellite launches, challenging foreign relations, and riots rolled through the USSR. Set against the backdrop of a world in flux— an event like the Dyatlov Pass incident doesn’t take place in a vacuum—set against the backdrop of a world in flux, it’s part and parcel of the historical environment. The series manages to tie all of this together in a way that is historically accurate without being overly pedantic about the annals of history.
Historical fiction is the opportunity to endlessly create and recreate the mythos of a single story. Though some mysteries will never be solved, crime television offers us the opportunity to explore the possibilities. And true crime TV has never been at a better moment to take on a story like this.