Or: Everything you ever wanted to know about the perils of scaling the second-highest mountain on earth but were afraid to ask. Nick Ryan’s nature documentary–cum–waking nightmare returns to a 48-hour period in 2008, when 11 climbers who had reached the top of K2—the fearsome peak in the Himalayas that’s earned the nickname “Savage Mountain”—perished on their descent. Friends, relatives and fellow climbers weigh in on several expedition members who lost their lives that day (the deceased are seen mostly through pictures and home movies); special attention is paid to Irishman Ger McDonnell, who’s own footage of the trek through the “death zone” is interspersed throughout the movie.
You’d expect to see such things in a documentary, but it’s Ryan’s addition of re-creations of the day’s fateful ascents and descents that turn this postmortem into something like a thriller. Using the r-word in documentaries is often a dodgy prospect, especially when you’re memorializing losses, yet it’s these vertigo-inducing scenes (shot on similarly snowy, if not as steep, summits) that deepen the sense of danger those men and women faced. As you watch these actors, you appreciate the endeavor the climbers went through all the more—and as triumph turns to tragedy, you feel the grief winding its way through your shaken nervous systems.
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