The Pyramid overcomes thin writing and an inconsistent found-footage format to deliver a horror movie experience that actually fulfills its promises.
In The Pyramid, new and old styles of archeology collide as daughter/daddy team Nora (Ashley Hinshaw) and Holden (Denis O'Hare) embark on the world-changing discovery of a pyramid buried under Egyptian desert, which predates any previously known structure in the region. When the political upheaval surrounding them reaches a fever pitch, Nora and Holden are ordered out of the dig site and back to the states.
Old-school Holden wants to follow protocol, but the younger, more ambitious Nora wants to use modern tech to sneak a peek inside the pyramid - a decision wholeheartedly supported by her robotics expert boyfriend and the documentary crew filming the expedition. When Holden reluctantly agrees, they send a robot scout into the structure; when that scout fails to return, the team opts to venture in after it - despite many hieroglyphic warnings about what lies in wait inside.
Marking the directorial debut of longtime horror movie writer Grégory Levasseur (longtime collaborator with Hills Have Eyes and High Tension horror auteur Alexandré Aja), The Pyramid overcomes thin writing and an inconsistent found-footage format to deliver a horror movie experience that actually fulfills its promises.
As a director, Levasseur has clearly learned a lot from Aja on how to construct different types of scares - each as effective as the others. From jump scares to sustained scenes of gore and horror to psychological freak outs, the movie does a good job of keeping the tension ratcheted up to high levels, while still providing several satisfying scenes of larger payoff. No death is wasted. The effects work is not too great, but since most of dirty work is done in blurred darkness, the budgeted CGI doesn't matter for most of the journey through practical (and creepy) set pieces.
On the technical front, Levasseur seems unsure about the format or style of movie he wants to work with. The film is presented to be found-footage at the outset, but often violates that rule by including arbitrary shots that totally break found-footage logic (i.e., random shots of a character from a non-FF perspective). By breaking its own rules (albeit often for the sake of better cinematography and visuals), the film makes it hard to justify the jumbled, shaky-cam portions of footage that are presented in true found-footage perspective. The impression is that the format is being used presumably to enforce POV constrictions that allow for more things like cheap jump scares and wild imagination. In the end, though, it's just sloppy and inconsistent filmmaking from a first-timer.
The story - by the relatively untested team of Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon - heaps fragments of Egyptian mythology on top of thinly-drawn characters and half-explored themes. In short: it's not that good of a story of mythos, beyond the moment-to-moment, point-to-point progression of scares (As Above, So Below did something similar, better). It's an unfortunate downward spiral, because at the onset, it seems like the movie will have a core to it, introducing ideas like generational conflict, world politics, and how ancient myths may relate to the modern world we live in. But none of that ends up going anywhere once the body count starts to pile up.
True Blood alumni Ashley Hinshaw and Denis O'Hare make for a solid lead pairing; the latter does weaselly pretension like a pro, while the former makes for a surprisingly solid female protagonist.
Around those two we get supporting characters who seem well-developed, but are largely left unexplored. This includes the documentary team of Sunni (Christa Nicola) and her cameraman Fitzie (James Buckley), as well as Egyptian robotics expert, Zahir (Amir K), and Egyptian soldier Shadid (Faycal Attougui). The characters are all a step above the usual horror movie fodder, and the actors playing them are suitable, but the movie itself does little with them (especially Shadid, who seems to exist purely as a plot device, and little else).
In the end, The Pyramid is a better-than-excepted entry in the long list of forgettable found-footage horror movies. With the horror genre looking thin until the end of the year, what's buried here may turn out to be worth your while for the meantime.
The Pyramid is now playing in theaters. It is 89 minutes long and is Rated R for some horror violence and bloody images.
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