The Dyatlov Pass occupies a place in Russian pop culture not unlike Roswell in ours, but the incident that occurred there in 1959 had a very real body-count. There were nine deaths to be precise: eight students from the Ural Polytechnical Institute and a credentialed guide, who arranged to join their group because he needed another professionally qualifying expedition. By all accounts, the entire group mixed well, yet they all died on the ominous sounding Dead Mountain. Director and on-camera-presenter Liam Le Guillou tries to get at the truth of what happened in Unknown Compelling Force: The True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which releases today on DVD.
Officially, all nine expedition members died of hypothermia, even though several displayed conspicuous signs of physical trauma. The initial Soviet-era authorities essentially swept the incident under the rug, but when the regime collapsed, friends and family of the victims openly questioned the official version. Subsequent investigations only fueled the public’s suspicions.
Examining contradictory witness statements and government reports, Le Guillou largely dismisses the more fanciful urban legends that have gained traction, like the “Russian Yeti.” Ironically, he debunks conspiracy theories involving supposed Soviet weapons testing with a rational explanation that might actually be even more damning.
Apparently, a few radioactive garments were recovered from the dead bodies, but they could very well have belonged to an expedition member who worked during the clean-up of the Kystym nuclear emergency. At the time, the Soviets did their best to cover-up that incident too, but it is now considered the third worst nuclear disaster ever, after Chernobyl and Fukushima—at least maybe until the recent “performance issue” at the Guangdong nuclear power plant, not that we can judge from what the CCP says.
Unknown Compelling is not the final word on Dyatlov Pass, but it does not present itself as such. Nor is it tabloidish. Instead, it does a nice job analyzing and winnowing away potential theories. Throughout it all, it is clear the secretive nature of Soviet Socialism added unnecessary levels of paranoia and murkiness. Recommended as an intriguing and responsible look at an unsolved mystery, Unknown Compelling Force releases today (6/15) on VOD.