THERE'S SOMETHING undeniably impressive about a movie that manages to instill a new phobia in its audience. Example: Children of the Corn. Who likes blonde kids anymore?

If you're into climbing mountains... or ladders... or sleeping on the top bunk, and you want to continue blithely skipping about the upper altitudes, avoid North Face: This German movie is bound and determined to put the fear of heights in everyone who sees it.

North Face describes, in frostbitten, vertiginous detail, the efforts of four men who're determined to scale the biggest, baddest mountain in the Alps. The year is 1936, and the North Face of the Eiger is the last great Alpine face to remain unscaled. A team of hot young German mountaineers takes up the challenge (supported by the Nazi party, a fact that's made as little of as possible); a pretty young newspaperwoman adds a touch of romantic intrigue. Because North Face is based on a true story, and its salient plot points are a matter of historical record, I'm going to spoil a couple of them: Everybody dies. The mountain wins.

North Face is dizzyingly, stomach-droppingly effective survivalist porn, designed for people who like to pit themselves against the elements (or watch other people do it). It's the type of movie that actually does require a "spoiler alert" before noting that its protagonists don't end up eating each other. The backstory tries to force a connection to the characters that goes beyond the elemental "Man vs. Enormous Fucking Mountain," but it never really succeeds—once the snow starts blowing around, and everyone's faces get all black and frostbitey, you can't really tell them apart anyway. It's an undeniable nail-biter, though, beautiful and frightening in its depictions of tiny men inching their way toward their doom.