IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
When a three-sided pyramid is discovered buried under the sand in Egypt, a documentary team, comprising of American newswoman Sunni and her British cameraman Terrence ‘Fitzi’ Fitzsimmons, races to the scene, careful to avoid the unrest which is threatening to tear the country apart. There, they find three other people already on the scene – American archaeologist Miles Holden, his daughter Nora, and Egyptian robotics expert Michael Zahir. The filmmakers plan to cover the opening of the pyramid’s apex, accessed through a tunnel in the sand, but when a local digger is killed by what seems to be a noxious gas which has developed inside the pyramid, the funding for the project is withdrawn and the military insist that they leave. The five decide to enter the pyramid for a quick explore….
Considering that the director of The Pyramid was kind enough to let Horror Cult Films interview him about his film, I don’t feel entirely happy about the fact that I’m not going to give it a very good review, though I must say that general word about it isn’t very good anyway, Fox originally going to give it a wide cinema release in the US but then changing their mind. Gregory Levasseur is known for scripting much of Alexandre Aja’s work, including his early masterpiece Switchblade Romance which I consider the last really great slasher movie, plus the strong remake of Maniac, so it’s no wonder that he felt he could go out and make a good horror film on his own. Unfortunately, the result isn’t very good at all, and amongst many other things the strongest question I have going through my mind is: why on earth did he decide to jump on the Found Footage bandwagon, a subgenre which, certainly in the horror genre [it may have a future outside of horror if films like Earth To Echo is anything to go by], is getting really tired [there’s only so much you can do with it] and just lamely rehashing the same old stuff over and over again…and then increasingly ignore it? Why bother with Found Footage in the first place if there’s no interest in respecting its limits?
You see, what The Pyramid does is begin as a typical Found Footage film [though already with the occasional establishing shot], with everything we see being from the point of view of cameras belonging to some of the characters, but then brings in more and more shots which in no way could have been taken by them, eventually almost forgetting what the film started off as. It’s as if Levasseur intended to make a Found Footage movie and then decided it was easier and/or better to tell his story the ‘normal’ way, and even if that was not the way he made his film, the result is still a bit of a mess which just seem to decide what it wants to be. After some shaky opening shots of riots, the film deserves praise for limiting shakycam – there’s a great deal of handheld camerawork but it’s surprisingly steady and proves that handheld filming can be done without making the viewer sick – though Levasseur can’t resist throwing in one eye-hurting action scene involving our protagonists running through pouring sand which almost wins the Paul Greengrass award for Most Vomit Inducing Shakycam Scene Of The Year. The film’s seeming uncertainty of what it’s trying to be really harms it and certainly made it hard for this critic to enjoy it, though truth be told it’s not much to speak of in most other respects.
It’s been pointed out that The Pyramid is very similar to As Above, So Below, which was a Found Footage film that explored the Paris catacombs. I have yet to see that film, though Levasseur’s film seemed to me a partial attempt to do similar things to The Descent. The trouble is that The Descent did these things infinitely better. The Pyramid has similar settings and situations which attempt to evoke primal fears like claustrophobia and what could be lurking in the darkness, but just doesn’t succeed. Remember how simple scenes of people crawling through tight rocky holes were able to create such uncomfortable tension in Neil Marshall’s film? There are similar bits in The Pyramid but they don’t have much effect at all, and, just as bad, the film just isn’t scary until a few moments near the end. I don’t think it was just me who was disappointingly ‘un-frightened’ by the proceedings at the showing I was at. When you’ve seen enough horror films, you can usually get a sense if one is working for the audience or not, even if different things can scare different people. Even when The Pyramid does ramp up some fear for the climactic scenes, it seems over too quickly and, after a rehash of one of The Descent’s most powerful moments, even a lame final ‘shock’ just left me with a feeling of: ‘’was that it?”. There isn’t even much in the way of simple jump scares unless creatures suddenly running in-front of the camera causes you to spill your popcorn. The film seems to try to rely more on atmosphere, but there’s not even much of that!
One thing this film does do is get to its principal setting immediately, getting the audience in the mood for some terror right from the offset, even though little actually results! The idea of a three-sided pyramid and an older structure possibly from an earlier civilisation existing beneath it is quite interesting, and in fact the film does score points for its back story, which increasingly delves into Egyptian mythology and gives the film its main monster [which isn’t a Mummy]. Unfortunately, too much of Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon’s script consists of characters explaining this and that, to the point where it becomes almost condescending. Do we really need to be told what ‘apex’ means, and do we really need to be told twice, via almost the same chunk of expository dialogue, what the monster likes to eat? The characters barely feel like real people and you certainly don’t get much of a chance to get to know them before bad stuff starts happening. We’re given those shaky shots of riots at the beginning, but that’s the only cursory nod to the ‘troubles’ happening in Egypt. A soldier turns up a couple of times to tell the other characters to pack up and go away, and later shows up inside the pyramid. I expected some tension of a more realistic sort to result from this part of the story, but as usual with this film, expectations are dashed.
It’s not long though before a NASA robotic device they’re using is destroyed by something, and we become aware that lots of little cat-like creatures, creatures which amusingly have the strength to bend people in half as they drag them into a tunnel, are around to cause trouble as well as the usual avalanches and so forth. There’s a rather intense scene where one of the characters is impaled on spikes and the others try to pull her off them, and some fairly tense rehashing of Aliens’ s airlock stuff, but the effects are quite poor, especially when the chief creature shows up, which could have really benefitted from some creative lighting to help conceal its defects [and this is coming from a guy who tends to love seeing monsters in all their glory]. The film has one great image of a jackal-headed monster weighing a victim’s heart, but the CGI isn’t very convincing, and it’s really sad that CGI seems to increasingly be the only way that filmmakers are willing to go these days when depicting monsters. A person in a suit, aided by effective photography, would have just as good in this case and actually probably better than a thing that barely looks like it’s there. The old ways of doing effects are becoming lost, and I fear there will come a time when they will no longer be learnt and done at all in films.
The acting in The Pyramid isn’t much to speak of, which makes the endless expository dialogue even more of a chore. The score by Nima Fakhrara provides some unsettling sonorities and belongs to a better film. The Pyramid isn’t quite awful, and I certainly enjoyed it more than this year’s other Egypt-set Found Footage horror Day Of The Mummy, though I was happy to cut that film some slack because it was a micro-budget effort. Overall though, The Pyramid is a bit of a failure on most levels. Sorry Levasseur. You pretty much blew it….though at least your scriptwriting prowess isn’t tarnished, as you didn’t write the thing.