The end of the world is a place that cinema has visited many times, but Mountain Fever brings a grim intimacy to these familiar motifs, while reducing all of humanity to both a tiny dramatis personae and a stripped-down range of hopes and fears. The engine of change here is a global pandemic – a contagious virus which does not enrage or zombify its victims, or drive them to eat human flesh, but rather, wth a refreshingly banal realism, induces the infected to cough blood and slowly – but surely – die. Jacques (Tom Miller), an everyday IT specialist ill-equipped for rugged survivalism, has managed to get from his home in England to France just before the airports closed, and has arrived at his parents’ large house on the outskirts of a now deserted town in the mountains. As a symbol of how the world is now running on empty, Jacques has to make the final leg of his journey on foot after his car breaks down, and he finds the house as deserted as the town, now that his infected parents have left for Lyon in the hope of finding a vaccine.
Soon the house is invaded by Kara (Anya Korzun), an armed and resourceful Ukrainian determined to survive the harsh winter free of infection. As the two settle into an uneasy alliance in the house, their characters and values are contrasted. Where the outbreak had led Jacques to head straight for his nearest and dearest, it drove Kara away from hers, and from the inevitable death that would come with nursing them through their illness. Where Jacques invests his hope in societal order being restored quickly and the power coming back on, Kara has taken off with her family’s money in case it will ever be useful again (even if its only use within the film itself is as tinder for the fire). Already confined to the boarded-up house, the pair becomes even more beleaguered as Kara’s husband Michel and his infected brother Arnaud break in, forcing Kara and Jacques to barricade themselves in a single room upstairs. Arnaud wants the stolen money back, Michel wants Kara, and so, in this claustrophobic stand-off, different (although equally basic) human drives come into collision, and no compromise or cooperation seems possible in the face of onrushing mortality.
Hendrik Faller’s feature debut as writer/director is low-budget, but finds a real focus for its themes in the tiny cast – and when, eventually, it heads back outdoors, the snowy desolation of its Alpine locations forms a perfect backdrop to the film’s moral bleakness. This is an entirely ordinary apocalypse in which human nature proves as deadly as the virus, and the slightest flicker of hope that the narrative offers comes far too late.