Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Pyramid

The Pyramid (2014)
Dir  Grégory Levasseur
Written by Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O'Hare, James Buckley and Daniel Amerman

THE PYRAMID is a very, very stupid but maybe kinda endearingly dorky attempt at a newfangled spin on a very, very old genre: it’s the tale of a bunch of moronic white archeologists who pay a terrible price for entering the a sacred Egyptian tomb (that’s the old part) but with a bunch of cheap digital cameras that more or less commit to a found-footage approach (that’s the newfangled part). There are a few halfhearted attempts at updates on the formula (get this, it’s not a pyramid… it’s an upside-down-underground-SUPERpyramid!) but mostly it’s exactly what this formula has promised since the dawn of time, only uglier, because found footage.

At least this time it’s supposed to be a documentary crew with professional cameras, so some of it is not as outright hideous as you might expect, just kind of dull and ugly. And like an inexplicably increasing number of these films seem to be doing, it also seems perfectly willing to abandon any actual found-footage perspective when it becomes inconvenient to try and figure out how to show what’s going on. I guess it doesn’t bother me that they do this if it’s in service of showing us something cool as opposed to sticking it out and just turning the visuals into a confused mess, but...  why even bother at that point? And if you’re shooting an obvious unmotivated angle, why not at least use a nicer camera? Like most found-footage debacles, there are a handful of sequences where shooting from a character’s perspective kinda works, I guess, but a whole lot of this one -- increasingly everything, towards the end-- abandons any pretense that someone in the film is shooting this footage, but retains the ugly handheld digital aesthetic. WHY? There’s no reason in the world they couldn’t have just shot this like a real film, with a few scattered sequences of found footage dropped in where they make sense. It’s obviously what director Grégory Levasseur (co-writer/second-unit director on most of Alexandre Aja’s features) wants to do anyway, so why go through the motions of making the whole thing look visually displeasing and spatially confusing when you obviously don’t even really care about the stupid gimmick in the first place?

Who is shooting this, exactly?

Not that there’s really much to see anyway. I guess filmgoers --and especially horror fans-- have kind of tacitly accepted that movies nowadays will be unpleasant eyesores. But do they have to be so damn uneventful? At least with normal film you can establish some atmosphere, build up a little suspense. Here, during the long stretches that nothing is happening, it’s every bit as dull as the most patience-taxing overlong youtube clip of someone waving their cameraphone around at nothing, except it’s minutes on end instead of 45 seconds. THE PYRAMID takes an unforgivably long time to get going, and even once it gets moving offers pretty scant rewards untils the very end. I like that there’s a (spoiler) pissed-off Egyptian god instead of the more standard Mummy, but what else does this place have? Cats? Fucking CATS? And CG cats, to boot? Plus, like, one sand trap and one spike pit? That’s it, that’s all there is in this supposedly giant underground pyramid? Those are the only things you could think to do with this concept? The very last shot is spoiled in the trailer, so that should give you some idea about just how little content the poor advertising people had to work with in their Herculean task of trying to convince you there’s something in this debacle worth putting in your eyeballs.

If it has a saving grace --and it doesn’t, but being a positive individual I try to find some good and I enjoy a challenge-- it has to be, strange as it may sound, the acting. No no, it’s not good acting, don’t be absurd. What it is, is bad acting. Rich, thick, piping hot bad acting, and an enviable surplus of it. Not the usual grim, disaffected nonacting you get these days, but that old kind of bad acting that I thought went extinct with the invention of irony in the mid-90s. The kind of earnest, wide-eyed enthusiasm which allows the blond archeologist here (Ashley Hinshaw, CHRONICLE, +1) to turn simple exposition into a weird free-form poetry with the accents peppered through with whimsical indifference. “Dad, can you stop BEING an Archeologist for one second!?” she whines, with a reckless abandon that borders on the genuinely courageous. It’s terrible, of course, but I’ll grant it gives the whole endeavor an agreeably honest schlockiness that makes it hard to be too angry at it. And Denis O’Hare (who we previously encountered playing Charles B. Pierce’s fictional son in THE TOWN THAT DREADED REMAKES), clearly aware of the kind of movie he’s making, plays the whole part with a bemused smirk that makes him fun to watch even when he’s not actually saying or doing anything interesting, which is the whole film.

To be frankly honest (usually the best subset of honest in the reviewing arts) this is not a good movie at all, but I suppose at least it’s stupid and harmless enough to make it workable to be enjoyed with some drunk friends and a lot of beer. But even so, you could probably do a lot better.

Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: You Only Enter Once. Terrifying.
  • SEQUEL: No
  • REMAKE: No
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: None, unless you want to count producer Alexandre Aja.
  • BOOBIES: None
  • MULLETS: None
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Heart removed
  • MONSTER: Yes, plus some monster cats which are really just mean regular cats which are computerized for some reason.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): No
  • EVIL CULT: Again, the problems definitely have something to do with the Egyptian religion, but it seems like it was pretty mainstream back then.
  • VOYEURISM: Yes, there's a camera-bot who tastefully spies on our heroine getting dressed.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Low, theatrical production from last year.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Egyptologists have gotten moderately less racist than their Mummy movie heydey, but they haven't gotten any better at staying alive. And worse at filming things.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Definitely an actual Pyramid here, even if its some kind of underground superpyramid. Not that the shape turns out to be important or anything.
  • ALEX MADE IT THROUGH AWAKE: Weirdly, yes. I think she kinda liked it.

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