The Pyramid (2014)
R | 89min | 2014 | USA | Grégory Levasseur
If you were at all tempted to spend money on The Pyramid, now available on video on demand (and coming out on DVD on May 5, 2015), don’t! Directed by Grégory Levasseur (who directed the 2006 re-make of The Hills Have Eyes), written by Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon, and produced by Alexandre Aja, The Pyramid is valuable mostly as an exercise in how not to make a horror film. The writing is bad; the plot is utterly predictable, the acting is shocking flat; and the film is, quite simply, tedious.
The film begins with scenes of chaos in Cairo, Egypt—mass political unrest that has nothing at all to do with the plot. We then cut to an archaeological dig where a new pyramid has been found. Inevitably, our five protagonists head into the pyramid: Dr. Holden (Denis O’Hare, of American Horror Story fame, sadly put to no good use here), his daughter, Dr. Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw, perpetrator of the worst acting of the film), along with her largely unimportant love interest and two journalists who are shadowing them. What happens in the pyramid is a haphazard compilation of other (more successful) films, notably Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), The Descent (2005), and Quarantine (2008). The film is mostly in the found-footage tradition, although there are random moments when this strategy is abandoned, leaving viewers wondering where the other cameras in the pyramid came from.
First, nodding to The Descent, the characters spend some time clambering through the narrow tunnels of the pyramid—punctuated by some irrelevant mini-lectures on Egyptian hieroglyphics. (The best such moment is when Dr. Holden, Sr., is able to decipher “Warning” on a door, but when asked what they are being warned of, the world-famous expert on such things can only respond, “I don’t know.”)
After the floor collapses under them, the journalist Sunni (Christa Nicola) offers to shimmy up a narrow opening, revealing her life-long passion for rock-climbing. More homages to The Descent follow until, part way up, she meets a feral creature, a cat, which is only an echo of the much more devastating figure that menaces them later. It turns out to be the Egyptian god Anubis, but it looks like the atavistic creatures that lurk in the caves of The Descent and the attic of Quarantine.
In short order, and now one fewer, the characters stumble into what appears to be the set of an Indiana Jones film, inadvertently triggering some sort of switch that traps them in a corridor rapidly filling with sand. The only way out leads to a pit of spikes onto which one of the characters haplessly and inevitably falls.
After more wandering around in the pyramid and more encounters with feral cats, the three remaining characters find Anubis, the chief terror of the place, who rips out Dr. Holden, Sr.’s heart (back to Indiana Jones). There’s a long-winded and not entirely clear explanation about why he does this—something about the Book of the Dead and one’s fitness for the afterlife, not that the fitness of the characters for the afterlife plays any role in the film whatsoever.
In some of the worst dialogue of an atrociously written script, one of the two remaining characters, Fitzie the cameraman (James Buckley), decides he’s just going to give up (“I’d rather face him once and for all than spend the rest of my life running”). Despite his apparent heart-felt acceptance of death, however, moments later, when Nora says they can either try to get out of the pyramid or die, he responds energetically, “We’ve got to try.”
The last character finally makes it back to within sight of the opening out of the pyramid (to everyone’s relief), and a couple of predictable things happen before her camera cuts the black. Let’s just say, we get the distinct sense here that even the filmmakers knew they wouldn’t be called on for a sequel.
To sum up, the writing is horrible, the characters absolutely flat (I really did not care about a single one of them), none of the potential context offered in the film (contemporary unrest in Cairo, the history of ancient Egypt) ends up meaning anything at all. The plot is predictable and relies on things we’ve seen before without breathing new life into them. The only thing in the film’s favor is the cinematography, which does at moments convey the claustrophobia of the pyramid, and which also shows us a pretty creepy Anubis, at first, before we get the unfortunate close-up which dispels all creepiness.