‘The Pyramid’: Film Review
Produced by Alexandre Aja, this Egyptology-themed horror film stars Ashley Hinshaw as a beleaguered archaeologist
Fairly early on in the moldy cliché-encrusted horror film The Pyramid, the characters start remarking on how strong the smell of excrement is inside the eponymous structure they're exploring. Viewers will surely be thinking already by this point, dudes, you said it first. A stinker in every sense, this directorial debut for Gregory Levasseur, produced by Alexandre Aja (who directed the remake of The Hills Have Eyes), isn't even playful or scary enough to be much fun. Nevertheless, teenage boys and die-hard horror fans starved for gore and gristle in the run up to Christmas may embrace this enough to turn a tidy profit before it shifts onto ancillary platforms.
A mixture of fake and archive news footage sets the scene in Egypt in 2013. Crowds have taken to the rioting in the streets, presumably an allusion to the unrest following the coup against President Mohammed Morsi. However, according to the film, the really big news is that a whole new ancient pyramid has been discovered buried deep in the sands beyond Cairo. For American father-daughter archaeologist team Holden (Denis O'Hare) and Nora (Ashley Hinshaw, from Chronicle), the political situation in the country is merely a nuisance, preventing them from investigating their find.
Ignoring the warning from ambulatory Arab stereotype Corporal Shadid (Faycal Attougui), and undeterred by the fact that the tomb is emitting some kind of fungus or virus that causes film extras to break out in rubbery prosthetic disfigurements, Holden and Nora enter the pyramid. Accompanying them are Arab-speaking techno-wiz Zahir (Amir K, Argo), who happens to have a thing going on with Nora, as well as news cameraman Fitzie (James Buckley) and reporter Sunni (Christa Nicola). The real reason for the presence of the latter two is to provide a Blair Witch-style found footage frame around the material, but the effort is at best quarter-hearted in execution, with many master shots providing a traditional, omniscient view of the increasingly silly proceedings.
Before you can sneeze out "Akhenaten," the quintet is lost inside the bowels of the dusty ruin and one by one they're hunted down by CGI things that go bump in the dark that look like skinned feral cats with a bad dose of FIV. Those beasties turn out to be just the warm up act for the big bad (spoiler alert), jackel-headed god Anubis himself, although sequel-preparatory mentions of Mars, SETI and aliens may eventually reveal an extraterrestrial origin for the creature.
Egyptology has provided an engine for spooky films ever since the talkies started, and there's nothing wrong with trying to find new ways to coax thrills and chills from of mummies, hieroglyphics and that intrinsically creepy title, The Book of the Dead. The problem with The Pyramid is that it doesn't have a single new idea in its arsenal. All the shocks are cribbed from the likes of Alien, The Descent and a ghostly host of other horror films, but they're not even very effectively done here. The timing was a little off between sound and visuals with one shock attack, for example, and the effects look like they're still in the rough-draft stages. Likewise, the performances have an unfinished quality, like line deliveries one might hear at a table run-through.
Production companies: A Twentieth Century Fox, Silvatar Media, Mark Canton, Aja production
Cast: Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O'Hare, James Buckley, Christa Nicola, Amir Z
Screenwriters: Daniel Meersand, Nick Simon
Producers: Alexandre Aja, Mark Canton, Chady Elimattar, Scott C. Silver
Executive producers: Robert O. Kaplan, Alfred S. Newman, Justine Raczkiewicz11
Director of photography: Laurent Tangy
Production designer: Marco Trentini
Editor: Scott C. Silver
Music: Nima Fakhrara
Rated R, 89 minutes