The age-old wonders of the world have long cursed explorers who've dared to unlock their mysteries. But a team of archaeologists gets more than they bargained for when they discover a lost pyramid unlike any other in the Egyptian desert. As they begin to uncover its horrifying secrets, they realise they're being relentlessly hunted by an ancient evil more nightmarish than anything they could have imagined. From producer Alexandre Aja, director of The Hills Have Eves, and starring James Buckley, Ashley Hinshaw and Denis O'Hare, comes a pulse-pounding journey into true terror.
This looks good, is competently acted and has pace. It ticks all the boxes but fails to produce anything much that is out of the ordinary. A possible exception to this is that we don’t have a marauding mummy, but a human shaped jackal. This is not so much horror, rather an action adventure with horror scenes.
As a viewer and rabid fan of this genre, I wonder if my exposure to so many horror films has had a detrimental, difficult-to-please effect. If ‘The Pyramid’ was the first film of this type I had ever seen, would I be thrilled by it, unnerved by it, entertained by it? It is difficult to say, but the story fails to leave much of impression, even the resultant monster. Filmed in half-light, the scavengers glimpsed throughout are effective, but the ‘big reveal’ computer-enhanced creature at the end disappoints. This proves my firm belief that, unless done extremely well, CGI will suck the horror out of every horror film. The creature is nicely produced but is ultimately, just a cartoon.
In a move to find more locations to trap found-footage victims inside, The Pyramid is so lazy it doesn’t even bother coming up with a better title. They couldn’t bother with something along the lines of Dark Sands or Paranormal Tomb. It’s just The Pyramid. What about future documentaries on the subject matter that want to use the title? They’ll now have to share it with a cliche and forgettable survival horror picture that tries oh-so-hard to turn the ancient relics into a spooky trap factory.
As you might expect from such a title in the horror genre, the story follows some archeologists into a pyramid to learn its secrets. But rather than avoid all the structure's pitfalls and deadly traps Indiana Jones style, the team of bland characters succumb to the tomb’s curse. They’re all expendable characters without a lead hero to ground any of them. There’s the technological genius and the old fashioned archeologist who scoffs at the new wave. A pushy reporter and snide cameraman follow them to keep the found-footage format at least until the filmmakers get bored and want different angles. And there’s another technology geek thrown in because there needs to be one more duck for the chopping block.
They at least make the smart decision to initially send in a wheeled robot with a camera. But that’s one flash of brilliance among many poor choices. They still decide to venture inside even after being told to evacuate for the political unrest in nearby Cairo and after a toxic expulsion from the opened tomb. With all the massive warnings short of a giant “Keep Out” sign, it’s not even the least bit surprising when they find themselves lost and trapped in the darkness of the pyramid. The usual batch of Egyptian traps are sprung on the dopey bunch. Floors crumble, spiked pitfalls appear, rocks descend from the ceiling and sand fills enclosed spaces. It’s slightly refreshing to see such classic devices of the adventure genre played up for more of a horror angle. Funny how the lack of a wisecracking adventurer turns these deadly devices into more of a grim film.
From that angle, The Pyramid could’ve been a mildly entertaining take on the curse of ancient Egyptian relics. But then the cats show up. In the most laughable moment of computer graphics in the movie, feral cats scurry around in the darkness to occasionally bite and attack. Of all the scenes where there is too much darkness to discern what is going on, the cats appear quite clearly which does not bode well for the B-movie budget. One of the characters falls on a spike and a horde of cats attack her. Rather than swat them away, the victim merely lies there screaming as the cats take forever to gnaw off pieces of flesh from her arms, legs and neck. If the other characters didn’t eventually fight them off, one of them might have coughed a hairball in her mouth. Where are all these cats getting food from for all these years of being sealed away? Perhaps the ancient Egyptians stocked the pyramid pantries with plenty of Meow Mix.
It couldn’t just be a subtle curse for a tomb though; something has to be inside orchestrating the demise of the human intruders. That something is Anubis and, yes, he too appears less out of the shadows than he should otherwise be shot. He’s a slight step up from the feral cats, but still just as forgettable of a design. There’s a little bit of mythology applied to the manner in which he slays his victims by consuming their souls, but he’s little more than just another monster who roars and destroys. What if Anubis was actually more intelligent or could be defeated with some clever use of the mythological rules? Something like that could actually bring a twinge of creativity and poignancy to an otherwise routine exercise in horror. But, no, it seems much simpler to shoot him with guns and kick him down shafts.
The Pyramid is a brittle foundation of frights that never wants to surprise or reinvent a genre that is experiencing a fall from grace. What could’ve been a unique take on cursed tombs instead favors the bare-bones minimum to quickly dart to the kills as quickly as possible. That is if you can actually see the kills amid a production that is mostly shot in darkness too black to make out half the time. Such enclosed spaces do not make for great films when going for a natural lighting look. Perhaps the true curse of the pyramids is that they make for terrible found-footage films. For the viewer, it will be the curse of losing 89 minutes of your life to a film that does not scare or thrill. Heed my warning, movie explorers.