Adapting a true story to the screen is a difficult task, especially when the story is larger than life. Eric LeMarque, a one-time Olympic hockey player, was also an avid snowboarder who, in February of 2004, lost his way in the High Sierra mountains. 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain is the story of the eight days he spent in the wilderness trying to survive while also dealing with a meth habit. As a true survival tale, it is an example of the human ability to persevere, but the film sacrifices storytelling in service to a specific message.
The film opens with Eric (Josh Hartnett) six days away from going to court for a serious car crash he perpetrated while high. In a bid to clear his head, he goes snowboarding with no supplies but a small bag of meth. When a blizzard comes on at the end of the day, Eric decides to take one last run on an unregulated course and promptly gets lost in the snowstorm. At first, he thinks he is only in for a long walk back to the resort, but after hours of trudging through snow, he realizes that the situation is far more dire than he thought. Over the next eight days, he suffers one miserable setback after another, not the least of which is withdrawal from drugs. When the court date passes and Eric doesn’t appear, his mother Susan (Mira Sorvino) grows worried, and she reaches out to local search and rescue operations to find him.
In 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain, Josh Hartnett has none of his occasional charm or skill, as he pushes every scene to the limits of credulity with his performance. The film does him no favors by moving away from his survival story every time the situation becomes tense, flashing back to his troubled, sports-filled childhood or his arrogant mistakes on the hockey rink that cost him his career. A few of these would be sufficient to send the message, but the film repeats this tactic ad nauseum. Mira Sorvino, a woman who is only ten years older than Josh Hartnett, plays the desperate and determined mother to the hilt and, while it isn’t a bad performance, you can’t help but wince at her dialogue.
The elephant in the room with 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain is that it is a cheaply made, religious anti-drug movie masquerading as a standard Hollywood film. At first, there are only a few signs of it, such as way too much GoPro footage of someone who is clearly not Josh Hartnett snowboarding down the mountain, or when the film spends significant time showing Mira Sorvino reading bible verses out loud. However, when the flashbacks turn to the subject of Eric’s drug use, it becomes clear what the film is aiming for. It takes pains to show the hurt he has caused with his addiction and in multiple scenes, Eric questions the sky about his fate. His faith or discovery of same is never outright stated but the epilogue to the film makes it clear that it was a religious experience for the real Eric LeMarque.
There is nothing wrong with spiritual films, but 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain trying to conceal its religiosity undercuts its own message. If his beliefs or spiritual realizations were what allowed LeMarque to keep going through eight days of frozen hell, then the film should own that instead of trying to sneak it in as though it were vegetables in a picky child’s dinner. What could have been a fascinating story of someone surviving the impossible is instead a trite morality tale that refuses to acknowledge its own reason for existing.