December 22, 2014
½ of a popcorn
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
I have seen my share of horror movies, some gruesome, some absolutely terrifying, others jump- out-of-your-seat shocking and many just plain dumb. But when it comes to simply making its principal characters torturously and unceasingly miserable, director Grégory Levasseur’s “The Pyramid” takes Miss Havisham’s cake. This is typical B-movie horror, structurally unchanged since the sub-genre took form in the 1950s. All that’s missing is the forgivable innocence of nascency and the hokey effects that, in retrospect, made such films laughably campy.
There is a serious, unflinching and resultantly untoward determination in this clichéd saga about a group of archaeologists investigating a mysteriously odd, three-sided pyramid buried deep in the Egyptian sands. There is no humor interspersed throughout the cumulatively inundating doom and gloom to put us off guard. It’s just agonizing. We have a good idea where it’s going, and wonder if it isn’t our duty as viewers to invoke the spirit of Dr. Kevorkian so that the movie’s pathetic personae may be put out of their misery.
Adding insult to injury, Mr. Levasseur, working from a script by Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon, plays dirty pool. You know how at the outset of such fare you predict how many and which of the revulsion’s victims will survive? Well, here the director alters the climax in such a manner so as to render moot said time-honored tradition. I won’t give it away, just in case you have a compulsion to look under this rock for yourself. But suffice it to note, it’s part and parcel of the movie’s mean-spiritedness.
Oddly though, what upsets our sense of order if we happen to unexplainably find ourselves in a theater showing “The Pyramid,” is the rather decent acting. The cast, most of whom have primarily plied their craft in television, are able to ever so slightly rise above the unimaginative screenplay and direction, causing us to feel a bit sad for them, and not just for their characters. For example, Ashley Hinshaw as Nora, the offspring part of the illustrious father-daughter archeological team, screams almost throughout the film without it ever seeming fake, poor thing.
Well, you have to start somewhere, and hopefully the younger actors here will one day laugh at these humble beginnings, knowing they did the best they could with the hackneyed roles they were given. Specializing in outbursts about getting the heck out of here, James Buckley is Fitzie, the cameraman accompanying pretty documentarian Sunni, portrayed by Christa Nicola. She evidently finds that wearing rather low cut blouses improves her credibility. Playing the resident oldster, Denis O’Hare is Nora’s dad, Holden. He’s worried about his legacy, also poor thing.
It’s no sense telling you about the other characters if you follow my drift. I couldn’t help but often lapse elsewhere while the gang struggled to find an exit from the labyrinthine chambers, anterooms and passageways in this Egyptian hardly funhouse. Of course its walls are inscribed with ominous hieroglyphics Holden and daughter stop to decipher in-between harrowing escapes from indigenous, cat-gargoyle things. To facilitate my own survival, I provided comedy relief by channeling films like “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” (1955).
The routine is the same. It’s all about pushing the carved slabs in the right place, and, as Popeye incanted in “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves” (1937), “Open sez me.” Pity is, these explorers have no Popeye to show the way.
Things only get unremittingly dreadful, and then they turn really bad. But get this bit of disgustingness…perhaps the film’s only inventive abhorrence. Guess how these half lizard/half felines have survived all these millennia down deep in the pyramid’s catacombs. Yep, each new generation eats the bunch that spawned them. Frightening? Yes, but not as much as the thought that somewhere in this world there is someone who will decide this is their favorite film…of all time.
Worth noting, however, is the unholy cross pollination of horror genres represented in this abysmal mess. Once again, much of the infernal doings are brought to us courtesy of “found footage,” the gimmick controversially popularized by “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). Why the inherent implication of this scare tactic is pessimistic might be apt subject for your doctoral thesis in film at Berkeley, just in case you still haven’t picked a topic. Otherwise, one might be embarrassingly hard put to explain any kind of relationship with “The Pyramid.”
Point of disclosure: Horror is far from my preferred genre. Still, I surmise that even folks who salivate in anticipation of each new burnt offering will be reticent to defend this film, a shameless money grab that adds a whole new wrinkle to the term pyramid scheme.
“The Pyramid,” rated R, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Grégory Levasseur and stars Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare and Christa Nicola. Running time: 89 minutes