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“Hey, why don’t we make fun of the Arab Spring? It’ll make the perfect movie.” While something very similar to this line of reasoning is certainly the basis for Grégory Levasseur’s The Pyramid, the film’s complete ignorance to the political and social connotations of the Egyptian uprising in 2013 is embarrassing. The Pyramid‘s mockery of one of the most important movements of our age aside, it is hardly the film’s only issue. Fraught with horror clichés and unbelievably poor performances, The Pyramid is scarcely a must see horror this holiday (?) season.
Father/Daughter archeology team Dr. Holden (Denis O’Hare) and Nora (Ashley Hinshaw) have uncovered a cryptic three-sided pyramid buried deep beneath the Egyptian sands. Instead of using the “curse” trope as the hurdle for their exploratory goals, the Arab Spring seems to suit these filmmakers just fine. In a brief but exceedingly awkward webcam chat, Dr. Holden is assured by his stiffly robotic colleague that the dig must stop because “You’ve been in the desert too long, the clashes between the military and protesters are crazy!” Deciding to quickly send a rover down in their place, driven by Nora’s love interest Zahir (Amir K) no less, the team is excited to uncover the tomb’s mysteries. Attacked by some sort of unseen “animal”, the rover is destroyed and must be recovered in order to recoup the $3 million investment. In an act of horror movie “solidarity” Zahir is accompanied by Dr. Holden, his girlfriend Nora, and documentary filmmakers Fitzie (James Buckley) and Sunni (Christa Nicola).
In case anyone was wondering, the next step in horror filmmaking is not “professional documentary.” Found footage has been done to death, and only a few features have really been able to balance the nauseating effects with palpable tension and horror. The Pyramid employs various cameras to document the expedition, ranging from eye-line cameras Nora shoots for her diary, Fitzie’s professional-grade documentary camera, the eyes of the rover, and some omnipotent third party filming the group as they wonder aimlessly through the labyrinthine pyramid. While some of the visuals are well above the quality one would expect for a horror film, most are garbled, fake digital corruption-spotted shots. Seemingly unable to fully commit to the “found footage” genre, Levasseur cannot decide when to use his third party, and when to have his characters ham-handedly trade cameras, or point cameras towards things at which no sane person would point a camera.
The premise for The Pyramid is certainly more interesting than the 9% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes[http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_pyramid_2014/] would suggest, but is held back by preposterous acting and poor filmmaking. There are some clever moments, but most are lost in one’s inner struggle to not scream at the characters while they continue to make bad decisions. Character’s die off in a very predictable manner and order, but there are some genuine scares built in. Heavy reliance on the “jump scare” aside, Levasseur throws in some wild build ups and tension releases that really crank up the audience’s heart rate. The “villain” in the film is one unlike anything we have recently seen in theaters, and its “henchmen” are as absurd as they are effective at entertaining.
The main drawback to the film is the characters and the people who portray them. The father/daughter relationship between the Holden’s looks like an entry in “developing character backgrounds for dummies.” Dr. Holden is completely against his daughter’s use of technology in uncovering artifacts, and almost equally against her relationship with Zahir. Fitzie and Sunni share a classic boss/subordinate relationship, and their constant back-and-forth is enough to drive the audience insane (to the point of open laughter at my theater). The budding romance between Nora and Zahir is cute and cuddly, and at one point, Sunni remarks at Fitzie how no one wants to see two nerds in love (hint: they are not nerds, they are models hired to play nerds). Apart from the poorly-handled dialogue and the actors’ limited grasp on the meaning behind most of their dialogue, most seem to be just trepidatiously fresh to acting (which isn’t even remotely true). The most glaring issue I have with the characters is whoever decided to name one of the characters Fitzie. Do you want to know what will immediately take you out of an anxious mindset? Someone screaming “Fitzie” every 2 minutes. Pet names have no place in horror.
Although The Pyramid partially lives up to its poor (and sinking) reputation, the plot makes it surprisingly bearable to sit through. At 90 minutes, the run-time is blisteringly quick, and with the high tension, it goes by like ripping off a Band-Aid; slightly painful, but over in a flash.