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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 12, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 50
Horrific Pyramid unworthy of discovery
Arts & Entertainment
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Horrific Pyramid unworthy of discovery

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE PYRAMID
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Right at the start of 2013's Arab Spring, American archeologists Holden (Denis O'Hare) and his tenacious daughter Nora (Ashley Hinshaw) make a stunning discovery in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Buried under the sand is a pyramid, lost to civilization for untold thousands of years. It's the find of the young century, the pair almost beside themselves in excitement as to what secrets could be awaiting them inside.

For reasons that are more than understandable, both their University backers as well as the Egyptian government have ordered them to leave the country. But curiosity, as well as a desire to reacquire a lost robot loaned to their tech guru Zahir (Amir K) by NASA, leads them into the pyramid, if only for a quick look, documentary filmmakers Sunni (Christa Nicola) and Fitzie (James Buckley) following their every step.

In some ways eerily similar to this past August's As Above So Below in that it involves a group of young people (more or less) descending into an underground labyrinth only to discover a hellish doorway leading straight into damnation, the B-grade horror yarn The Pyramid doesn't exactly reek of originality. The directorial debut of longtime Alexandre Aja collaborator Grégory Levasseur (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D are just three of the productions they've teamed up on), the movie starts out as another found footage fright fest before randomly transforming itself into something else entirely, not for anything story based, but more because it can. It's a little bit of a perplexing mess at times; there's no better way to say it than that.

This does not make the film a total loss. Things are set up pretty well, even if what gets the five people inside the pyramid is moderately contrived, while the early thrills and chills offered up as they initially make their way through the stone and sand corridors are suitably unsettling. There's a decided, if not unexpected, Indiana Jones meets The Mummy vibe that's intoxicating, the found footage esthetic helping to augment the rising tension nicely.

It helps that Levasseur has O'Hare to center things around. Until the screenwriting starts to let him down - more on that in a moment - the stage and screen veteran (he's had notable roles in everything from Dallas Buyers Club to 'American Horror Story' to Duplicity to 'True Blood') anchors the proceedings agreeably. He's stoic and controlled in ways that are believable, authoritative, and is able to deliver quick bursts of narrative exposition in ways that propel the story forward instead of halting things in their tracks. More, the father-daughter bond he forms with Hinshaw is endearing, making the terror to come that more effective in the process.

But there aren't a lot of places to go, and while the supernatural elements utilizing Egyptian mythology and ancient religions are suitably unnerving, that doesn't make any of the events themselves surprising. There is a rote familiarity to everything that happens and the order the cast members are dispatched in that's tiresome, and as gruesome as some elements turn out to be, that hardly makes the majority of them frightening.

Then there is the script. Writers Daniel Meersand (Removal) and Nick Simon (Cold Comes the Night) have come up with a reasonably decent scenario and populated it with characters who, at least at first, have the appearance of being a collection of adventurers, scientists and journalists worth spending time with. But as things go forward, each of them is let down in one way or another, none allowed to form the kind of emotional dimensionality that would force the viewer to care if they survived their ordeal. In the case of O'Hare, he's the one that's inexplicably thrown entirely under the bus, the film's greatest asset suddenly transformed into its most colossal nincompoop, all to earn a random gotcha scare that's more insulting than it is anything close to effective.

Levasseur does what he can, he and his editor Scott C. Silver compiling their various bits of footage in a way that's viscerally intriguing. But about the time the script starts to go off the rails it is almost as if the director, too, has grown tired of all that's transpiring. Suddenly the proceedings start to get drowned in Nima Fakhrara's (The Signal) nice, if omnipresent, score. On top of that, it's like he gives up on the found footage format just as the third act starts slipping into gear, camera angles and visual points of reference popping up that could not possibly come from either of the two primary cameras that are supposedly filming all of the action.

In all honesty, I actually wouldn't have cared about that last item had the film not ended up so routinely blasé. Mixing things up as far as this genre is concerned, slipping back and forth between found footage and standard visual compositions is hardly a novel idea, but it is one most motion pictures of this ilk are unwilling to dabble in. I like that Levasseur felt the need to play with the format, I just wish he would have done so from the onset and not just at the point things were falling apart. It reeks of desperation and as such becomes a more noticeable a visual hiccup because of it.

For all my bellyaching, in all honesty as tired as the format might be, 2014 has been a fairly strong year for found footage horror yarns. The Den, Willow Creek, The Sacrament, even the aforementioned As Above So Below, all have yielded their fair share of divine moments of terror and despair. However, as good as the production values might be, as strong as the overall cast is, the same cannot be said for The Pyramid as a whole. Levasseur shows potential as a director, just not enough of it to overcome his debut's deficiencies, making this one horrific descent into the subterranean unknown unworthy of discovery.

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