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Average review score based on 9 user reviews
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"The Donner Party" does little to explain exactly how the party ended up in the middle of a desolate mountain range, desperate for rescue. However, it does pick up in the middle of the entire thing. My sarcastic and cynical side tells me to wonder about anyone who wouldn't question a man who tells you there is a shortcut through a mountain range in the middle of winter, but that's just me. Anyhow, the movie starts off with the various parties that trusted Hastings and establishes the fact that there is pretty much little to no food left for anyone. Mr. Eddy attempts to hunt game but finds that there is little to be had. Crispin Glover plays Mr. Foster who is adamant about feeding the little group he has established at his dwelling. It's to the point where there are no resources and people are starting to cash in on favors - Mr. Foster threatens to take the rifle away he gave to Mr. Eddy if Mr. Eddy doesn't share the last of of his meat, etc. As the outlook gets more glum, a guide stumbles into the camp giving the party hope that they may be rescued. The guide promises that there a provisions waiting about 3 days away and that if a group goes out, they can have food, make their way to California on foot, and bring back a rescue party for the rest. The group is made of various women and men including Mr. Foster and Mr. Eddy who call themselves The Forlorn Hope. At first, the group has faith and travels on intent to get help for everybody. Yet, they get a rude awakening and find that promises are not always the truth. As tempers flare and the situation grows more desperate, the group resorts to eating humans. Some even sacrifice themselves while others vehemently protect their own in order to survive. The end of the movie gives a little bit of the background of what ensued as does the beginning informs the audience about the circumstances surrounding the Donner party. I've seen this referred to as a horror movie, yet I don't think I would classify it as one. Basically, this movie is a historical rendering of events and while some may find the circumstances horrific, this movie has nothing to do with blood and gore. The scenes of cannibalism are much like the ones seen in the movie "Alive". You see the party eating pieces of something, but there is very little gore, etc. This movie for me was neither here nor there. I think I had high expectations, but this one sort of flatlined for me. The Crispin Glover performance seemed over-the-top and out of cycle with the rest of the performances. There is one great climax to the movie where you find out that the party has been duped basically which is fantastic. Other than that, not too much excitement for an exciting topic. I'm not saying the movie is horrible, I'm just saying I would have liked to witness a little bit more action or storytelling and less reliance on just reporting facts via the start and stop of the movie. In addition, Crispin Glover could have toned it down somewhat for this one. While he portrays the menace of Mr. Foster well, the acting seemed disjointed.
As a movie, it's average...but because it claims to be the true story of the Donner Party, I can't recommend it. This is not the same thing as TITANIC, where they add characters who did not exist and weave a fictional story around them, while leaving the historical facts intact. For instance, Molly Brown survived the Titanic sinking, while John Jacob Astor died; this is true of the film as well as reality. Then we have THE DONNER PARTY, which distorts or changes just about every aspect of the true story. William Foster was never the leader of the party; Franklin Graves did not commit suicide; there were numerous children with the expedition but we don't see any except Eddy's infant son. The movie seems to start in the middle, after the pioneers have been trapped at the lake for some time, and ends abruptly just before the Forlorn Hope reaches civilization. Because I am familiar with the true story, I was able to feel empathy for Stanton. But anyone watching this movie without knowing the background will simply wonder: who is this guy who suddenly shows up to lead a group to safety, then can't keep up and [presumably] dies? The real Stanton heroically sacrificed himself; the movie Stanton, for all the viewer knows, abandoned the group. There is enough real drama in the true story, and unanswered questions that are not even addressed in the film. To this day, it is unknown whether Keseberg murdered two little boys and Tamsen Donner. Why not speculate on that? Instead, William Foster (as played by Crispin Glover) becomes an effeminate, selfish, religious zealot who practically forces the others to kill and cannibalize their comrades. No account of the Donner party paints this picture of Foster. It's over the top, and it's a disservice to a real person who was not even a very prominent member of the Donner Party, let alone its leader and villain.
this movie had only a small amount of fact to it. also there was alot more to the donner party experiance than just the forlorn hope. it was very loosly based on a true story. i am very interested in the donner party and what happened there but i still had a hard time staying interested in this movie.
This is a movie about the Donner Party not a documentary as my husband and I thought. It tells about the facts of what happens to these people. If you are easily sickened by movies this movie is not for you. I found it hard to watch the parts where they were supposed to be killing and eating each other. We wanted to know facts about the Donner Party and about what really happened.