The Mountain

Director: Rachel House
Starring: Elizabeth Atkinson, Terrence Daniel, Reuben Francis, Byron Coll, Troy Kingi, Sukena Shah, Fern Sutherland.
Distributor: Madman films
Runtime: 89 mins. Reviewed in Jul 2024
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild language and themes

Explores the journey of three young people as they seek solace under the watchful gaze of New Zealand’s Mount Taranaki.

This is a film about youngsters for youngsters. The three who set out on a climb of Mount Taranaki (on the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island) are 11 years old, as are the three children who acted here for the first time. And The Mountain will be a film that those most likely between 9 and 13, will not only enjoy but find interesting and entertaining, as well as worth talking about.

We are introduced to the three – a girl and two boys. The girl, Sam (Atkinson), is doing some martial arts moves but we soon find that she is in hospital with cancer. She is fussed over by her mother, but has never known her father. Then there is a chubby boy, Mallory (Francis) doing imaginary strumming. He is a sad boy; his father is somewhat withdrawn after the death of his wife, while Mallory grieves for his mother. Sam andMallory encounter a Maori boy, Bronco (Daniel), who is feeling rebellious against his father a security guard at the hospital.

Sam’s great desire is to achieve something, such as climbing to the top of Mount Taranaki. Not quite aware of her Maori background, she is still moved by the mountain and its mystery – a religious and psychological link.

In fact, as the three come together and set out on the venture, Bronco, proud of his Maori heritage, speaking the language, knowing the traditions, a believer in earth harmony, devout in his respect for his heritage, helps the audience appreciate that what began as a venture, then an adventure, is now a quest.

The young audience can identify with these three characters. Unknown to each other at first, we follow them as they bond in decision to get to the top or not.

While the parents are supporting characters, they are quite well drawn. There is the over-loving mother, her daughter’s crisis in wanting to know something of her father; Bronco’s big father, a nice man but not realising how he has neglected his son; and Mallory’s father caught up in grief, failing to appreciate his son’s sadness and emotional needs. And there is an enjoyably deadpan friend character, Peachy. Which means then that The Mountain is a family film in the best sense.

The local photography has moments of beauty. The emphasis on the Maori heritage is explicit, opening up the culture to a wider audience. And, there is a common sense approach as to how the quest finishes, real, rather than romanticised.

Compliments to the director, House. An actress in many NZ and Australian film and television productions, always down-to-earth with a touch of humour, this is House’s first film as director. She has adapted the story of three Pakeha /white children and incorporated the strong Maori elements.

Because senior primary school students would enjoy this film and find it helpful to discuss, Pixar’s original Inside Out came to mind. That enjoyable film dramatised and personalised children’s emotions, while here they are right here on screen – joy, sadness, anger and fear. It would be very interesting to hear teachers and children talking about the Inside Out emotions as they see them in the three children in The Mountain.

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