By Shane M. Dallmann
When I saw the trailer for THE PYRAMID, I said “Wait a minute–didn’t we JUST SEE this when it was set in France and called AS ABOVE, SO BELOW?”
Not an unfair judgment at all… both films feature characters lost in a labyrinth which may contain a portal to “the other side,” and THE PYRAMID (the directorial debut of Alejandre Aja’s house writer Gregory Lavesseur) consists mostly (but NOT entirely) of “found footage.”
Even though I was less than thrilled with AS ABOVE, I went and saw THE PYRAMID anyway. It’s one more horror film for the extremely paltry 2014, and I felt sorry for it because it’s flopping quite badly. And yet those who DID see it placed it somewhere “above” ABOVE. And THE PYRAMID simply had to be better than OUIJA, which certainly didn’t deserve to ring out the year.
So before the movie even started, I saw the trailer for CHAPPIE, which immediately made me think “No disassemble! Number Five ALIVE!” What are the odds? THE PYRAMID proceeds to introduce a diminutive robo-cam named “Shorty” who even LOOKS like a little Johnny Five. When Shorty’s done ogling the body of Ashley Hinshaw (CHRONICLE) it gets to go into the mysterious three-sided pyramid recently unearthed in Egypt. See, the archaeologist, his daughter/protege (Hinshaw) and various documentary filmmaker types can’t go in–the political climate of 2013 makes it mandatory for the Americans to leave Egypt immediately. But they secretly send Shorty in to get some boffo recordings. And “something” removes Shorty from team contact. So everybody goes into the pyramid in order to… look. THEY say it in the movie. “Get Shorty” is NOT one of my jokes, okay? And their “high tension” (another joke?) lifeline snaps and they all get hopelessly lost.
As you can tell, you’re not going to get much in the way of originality here, but at least THE PYRAMID recognizes that–and as a result, at the very least it moves along at a more efficient clip than AS ABOVE. I liked it when the archaeologist ordered the camera turned off in the early going, essentially saying “Nobody wants to listen to all this exposition.” Then the camera comes back on when he’s done talking, and he says “I don’t want ANYONE talking about a “curse” or anything like that.” Then he slaps the back of his neck and curses a bug or something. REMEMBER THAT. It doesn’t ultimately MEAN one hell of a lot in the long run, but you’re supposed to REMEMBER THAT.
Long and short. Instead of personal guilt doing a SHINING number on the crew, this is more of a DESCENT deal in which nasty little jackal-cats try to make mincemeat out of the wanderers while the pyramid springs the occasional death-trap. There’s a decent payoff beast (when it’s not lingered on too long), some fun Egyptian mythology, a couple of very good jolts and a painfully hopeless attempt to liberate someone from a bed of spikes. I also appreciated the lack of “PG-13” inhibition and the character who simply says “Screw it. I’d rather face a monster” rather than drag things out even longer.
On the other hand, numerous setpieces DO get dragged out all the same, and I lost count of the ways this movie boldly reclaimed “Let’s get out of here!” as the biggest cinematic cliche of all time. “We need to find a way OUT! The history is fascinating, but shouldn’t we get OUT of here? We need to get OUT NOW!”
And I’ll say this much for AS ABOVE, SO BELOW in this context–it certainly did manage something at which THE PYRAMID fails utterly… it came up with a satisfying ENDING.
But THE PYRAMID didn’t bore me. So there’s that.
And to the delight of my wife (who inhabited the nearly deserted theatre with me), when the “secret door” swung open, it did so in such a fashion that there was no way I could respond with anything but…
“PUT… THE CANDLE… BACK!”
So the year ends on a pleasant note.