Urban Explorer. 2011. Directed by Andy Fetscher. Screenplay by Martin Thau.
Starring Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman, Klaus Stiglmeier, Max Riemelt, Catherine de Léan, & Brenda Koo. Papermoon Films/Rialto Film.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Urban exploration is a pretty neat activity people have gotten into steadily over several decades. Particularly after the erosion of the Soviet Union and other similar events, where villages and their buildings were abandoned or otherwise left to rot. In the past 16 years since YouTube has really become a big deal, people are filming their encounters, and even more so in the past couple years with GoPro cameras becoming the newest must-have item for adventurers of all kinds. A couple people who really bring it on that front are people like Dan Bell whose Dead Motel/Dead Mall series’ are impressively exciting and visceral fun to watch (in the dark is a suggestion to get your creep on), and also R Willy who I’ve only very recently found, enjoying some of the unsettling videos they’ve filmed in abandoned warehouses, mausoleums, and more (the Abandoned US Navy Warehouse is scary enough on its own yet he adds a brilliant Dead Space nod to make it all the more unnerving).
So when I first saw the promo material for Urban Explorer, also known as The Depraved, the entire premise spoke to my interests. Combining actual horror with the subtle, quiet spooky qualities of urban exploring sounded like something I could sink my teeth into. But not quite. What starts off with promise, even holding onto some of it after things go sideways, eventually ends up in cliché slasher territory. While I didn’t expect anything other than the slasher sub-genre, I still hoped there might be some innovative use of urban exploration. Instead, it’s merely a plot device leading us to the same old villain, the same old nonsense. Even the shining points of this film aren’t any spectacular. Maybe some might enjoy a portion here or there. I know there were a couple genuinely creepy scenes and moments. Overall, though, Urban Explorer squanders its potential by offering nothing new and promising more than it was ever able to deliver.
I did like the character of Armin as a villain. He works overall in his motivations, as a crazed military man now living in the underground abandoned tunnels. Then his encounter with the wannabe urban explorers becomes something even more intense with his paranoia driving so much of the slasher horror to come. However, it’s exactly the descent into slasher territory, so expected and predictable, which is ultimately what marred this character. On paper he is a terrifying, psychotic type of horror villain. But in execution – by the writer and director, not by the actor whose performance is definitely eerie – he is wholly lacking.
The urban exploration aspect is the best part. Just simply being put in amongst the dirty, lonely subway tracks and sub-basement corridors long ago left in near derelict conditions is enough to keep us uneasy. Part of why I enjoy the urban explorers on YouTube is for the fact we’re able to look at some of these buildings and their decrepit beauty. There’s something both gorgeous and tragic about the state of these buildings, left on their own to decompose like old, forgotten people in a home. Sometimes being left to the elements, these buildings take on that odd beauty that’s so intriguing. Unfortunately, a good set or an impressive location does not make the whole film. Now I’m not asking for some type of revolutionary plot that subverts expectations. Now and then a good mindless slasher can be excellent just for hitting the mark. That’s the problem here. Not only does Urban Explorer fall into cliché, it doesn’t offer much more than a couple little gory bits to fulfil that sub-genre expectancy of brutish violence. Yes, there are moments of gore, and one really gross bit of skin peeling that rivals any scenes of its kind. Overall, the movie falls short on providing what it needs to even work as a turn-your-brain-off slasher flick.
So much of the writing in this movie is totally bogus. Particularly, the climactic final 10-15 minutes bothered me. First off, no matter where you are or what’s happening, if a woman on a subway train started screaming at a man – with a cut on his face no less – saying he was trying to kill her, nobody would’ve let him take her away. Nobody. Sorry, you’d just not be able to convince me of that. Maybe if it were the 1960s and people were still ridiculously oblivious to the dangers around them. But in 2011 when this movie was made (and likely set), there’s no doubt at least one person would’ve stepped up to help. There were at least a half dozen or more people in that train. Then Armin whips her off onto the platform, and suddenly one guy inside realizes things aren’t on the up and up? Give me a break. One large, poor example of the writing in this movie that never seems to add up, go anywhere, nor does it provide anything properly tangible in terms of plot to keep the whole thing coherent. Again, not asking for these guys to reinvent the wheel. There’s just way too much of this stuff in the script that begs the question: was this all just an elaborate attempt to capitalize on burgeoning urbane exploration interest? Personally, I even liked The Chernobyl Diaries to an extent, because it didn’t have these ridiculous holes wearing through its plot every half hour. That didn’t do anything spectacular either and had its own issues, but it certainly doesn’t break (as) many of the rules of good writing Urban Explorer seems intent on smashing.
As a huge horror fan(atic), I love a ton of different slashers. Doesn’t need to be the bigger names, though I do love Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees and more. I’m not picky. Long as there’s excitement, some interesting writing, good horror. Urban Explorer offers nothing other than a few liberal smatterings of blood and gore. Aside from that there’s truly nothing more to enjoy. Klaus Stiglmeier is excellent in his role as the horrifically deranged antagonist. Not enough to lift this out of the mire of sub-par horror. If anything, watch this to be a completist if you’re anything like myself and enjoy seeing whatever movies you can get your hands on. Other than that you’re bound to be disappointed once you’ve sat through to the finish, even worse because of the film’s lacklustre ending.