Following in the dusty footsteps of this year’s As Above, So Below – a pathetic attempt at horror that was more Relic Hunter than The Mummy – comes The Pyramid, the directorial debut of Grégory Levasseur, a screenwriter and producer known for his work on the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and Maniac.
The film charts the ill-fated escapades of a group of supposed archaeologists who, in spite of being dressed a bit like Sam Neill and Laura Dern, don’t convince even half as much as those “palaeontologists”, who, to their credit, had to mime seeing a brontosaurus over the hill.
Chronicle’s Ashley Hinsaw is Nora, a young upstart following in her father’s (played by American Horror Story’s Denis O’Hare, looking completely lost) footsteps while simultaneously managing to step on his toes quite a bit as, when the time comes to enter the pyramid, she’s dying to explore while he is understandably wary.
The whole thing is set against the backdrop of the recent riots in Cairo. So, you’re either going to find the fact they’re only mentioned in passing, as the reason to leave the desert and fly off home, as an interesting method of rooting the story in reality, or an incredibly crass and opportunistic attempt at giving the ludicrous premise some weight.
To put it in perspective, this is the kind of film where factoid cue-cards pop up at the beginning to alert us to the riots, before advising that the footage we are about to see was recorded during an excursion into the pyramid (recently discovered buried under a million tonnes of sand) and that, obviously, it did not end well.
As it happens, the man holding the camera is none other than James Buckley, who Brits will recognise as potty-mouthed, compulsive liar Jay, of The Inbetweeners fame. Although his accent is so particular you almost expect him to yell out “CLUNGE!” at the most inopportune moment. Buckley’s “Fitzy” is the most likeable character of the bunch, not to mention the only person who argues the group should make a quick exit when things start to go awry.
Speaking of the threat that lurks in the darkness, the evil entities with which this ragtag group have to contend are, and this is by no means a joke, badly-rendered CGI sphinx cats, who flit in and out of focus thanks, presumably, to the fact that not enough (or indeed too much, as is often the case – see Twilight’s rubbish werewolves) money was spent creating them. There is another baddie but, at the risk of spoiling it, you’ll probably be asleep by the time he rolls around.
The Pyramid is an odd little film. It’s utterly rubbish, with a premise that crumbles faster than the tomb in which its characters find themselves stranded. And the clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue used in the picture sounds less like real people having a conversation and more like a bad Nat Geo documentary. Not to mention, the villains are quite literally cats.
However, it does boast some cool set-pieces and a few nicely tense moments that hint maybe, just maybe, there are some more interesting ideas at play, hidden beneath the surface like the titular structure once was. A sequence with a collapsing floor is well-handled, as is a dash through a hallway quickly filling up with sand. And there are some decent jump scares hiding around certain corners, especially when the protagonists realise they’re trapped in a labyrinth of sorts.
The found footage angle is less troublesome than normal here. Normally, we have to suspend our disbelief when other camera angles present themselves, but The Pyramid blatantly drops the gimmicky format soon after delving inside the tomb, picking it up again when necessary, and it’s actually to its credit.
Fitzy still films everything, mind you, and occasionally we get a glimpse at his footage, but for the most part there is a distinct angle on the proceedings that is quite obviously not courtesy of his feed. It should be annoying, but really it’s just another example of how found footage does not a spooky atmosphere create.
The Pyramid is, at least, a much more sombre affair than As Above, So Below, although it does boast a similarly irritating father-daughter dynamic, along with some dreadful to-camera narration. However, although it’s unnecessarily nasty at times, it is also laugh-out-loud funny.
For example, upon his daughter suggesting they enter the pyramid, O’Hare’s fusty father splutters “We have no idea what’s in there! There could be more fumes!” And later, an end-of-his-tether Fitzy demands that they stop “with all the history crap”.
It’s clear from the nu-metal song playing over the end credits – following a shocking twist that you will definitely see coming, whether you’ve been paying attention to the preceding 80 minutes or not – that someone, somewhere thought this was a really bad ass idea.
And indeed, Alexandre Aja has a production credit, but let’s face it, this isn’t as much fun as The Mummy (because that film had scarabs), or even Aja’s own Piranha 3D, which boasted better-looking and more terrifying creatures than bloody sphinx cats.
Avoid at all costs, unless you need a good nap, or a bad history lesson on ancient Egypt.
WICKED RATING: 3/10
Director: Grégory Levasseur
Writer(s): Daniel Meersand, Nick Simon
Stars: Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Denis O’Hare, Christa Nicola
Studio/ Production Co: Fox International Productions
Length: 89 mins
Sub-Genre: Found footage (sort of)