Urban Explorer a.k.a The Depraved. 2011. Directed by Andy Fetscher. Screenplay by Martin Thau.
Starring Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman, Klaus Stiglmeier, Max Riemelt, Brenda Koo, Catherine de Léan, & Andreas Wisniewski.
Papermoon Films/Rialto Film
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Father Gore will preface this article: Urban Explorer isn’t a good movie. It’s a relatively generic slasher-style horror with a unique setting: underground Berlin. There are lots of elements that could’ve become an excellent story. Instead, it has too many flaws to get where it’s trying to go. Despite that, Urban Explorer has things to say, and being mediocre doesn’t stop that.
The plot involves the growing trend of urban exploration. I often watch explorers like Dan Bell. He goes to creepy, abandoned, derelict, and, sometimes, maybe even haunted spaces, looking into their histories through what’s left behind. Incredibly interesting. Here, a bunch of tourists in Germany look to see a different side of Berlin. A local German lad who specialises in urbex tours takes them on a journey to try finding the infamous Fahrerbunker and other closed off, underground places where the Nazis operated during World War II.
Even if the movie isn’t great, or especially good, there exists commentary about modernity, urbanism, and how we – as modern or postmodern people – reconcile the present with the past. If writer Martin Thau and director Andy Fetscher pushed these themes further it would’ve complimented the movie overall. We’re left with a mostly by-the-numbers plot, garnished with juicy thematic bits around the edges.
The blemish on Germany’s face which will never fade is, obviously, Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Today, you can’t brandish the Nazi flag in Germany without legal consequences. Many in Germany realise their past shouldn’t define them, but also that their past is not wholly passed. There are those who’d subscribe to Nazi ideology today. We’ve seen a rise in white supremacist/nationalist groups in the past few years, in Germany, as well as in North America. This is the danger of letting such history fester.
Berlin’s underground is the perfect landscape for all things hidden. Former Nazi bunkers have been walled off. In the movie, the German urbex guide tells his guests the bunkers were shut up so neo-Nazis wouldn’t “come to worship” at old “shooting galleries” where S.S. troops executed people. The underground becomes a depository, symbolic of parts of the German population willing to bury the past rather than actually deal with it outright. Rather than reconcile the past with the present, the past is tucked away. With this sweeping of historic dust under the rug comes the festering. Forgotten places also involve forgotten people. Eventually the group run into a dangerous man named Armin (Klaus Stiglmeier) who lives in the tunnels.
Armin poses as a friend, only for the urban explorers to realise he’s a psychopath. The subterranean man is totemic of the lost, forgotten people of Germany. This isn’t to say they’re forgotten in the sense they’ve been ignored when they shouldn’t, rather their threat has been forgotten, or diminished. Like society today seems surprised by neo-Nazis, as if they haven’t been around since Hitler died, the urbex group are shocked by a racist, misogynistic killer living underground preserving the spirit of Nazi Germany.
“Welcome to the dark side of Berlin”
Armin reveals several things about himself. He was part of the Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic. He actually tells one of the group, Denis (Nick Eversman), a terrifying story of young boys put in a harem by the Mujahideen and skinned alive— urban legends about the Other, the enemy. He talks of being on the Berlin Wall, shooting people during the controversial “shoot–to–kill order.” Evidently, for Armin – like white nationalists today against refugees/anything related to people of colour – the war and conflict of which he was a part never truly ended, he perceives it as ongoing. The underground’s his reality. He can immerse himself in the Nazi past of his country where he belongs. Because people infiltrate this sacred space, he sees it as violation and goes about killing them like he would’ve done in wartime.
Before running into Armin, the German guide Kris (Max Riemelt) talks of various myths associated with Berlin’s mysterious underground. Some are typical. Others – like that of Vril-8, the Odin spaceship prototype built by the Nazis – are more fantastical, involving subterranean people who’d been experimented on by Nazi doctors. These are urban legends created by people fascinated with what’s unknown, forgotten, or forbidden. The darkly ironic part is urban legends are fake. Sometimes inspired by reality, ultimately they’re unreal concoctions built on modern fears of urbanism. The urban explorers laugh at these stories, whereas Kris believes they could be true. None are prepared for the reality of Armin and the festering neo-Nazism growing right beneath the city’s feet. They actually run into a couple neo-Nazis on their way down— locals not happy to see photographs taken of their holy territory. This should’ve been a sign indicating the deeper they went, the worse it’d become. Instead they chuckle at the urban legends and walk right into an ugly, forgotten, violent past awaiting them.
“Germany is reunited now”
“So they say”
The majority of actual action and plot movement in Urban Explorer is typical of slasher horror. You won’t find anything overly exciting. Not to say it isn’t worth watching— in particular if you’re like Father Gore and love to watch anything/everything! If you go in expecting little, you may find a reward.
All the thematic content of the movie’s there, it’d be better if the director and writer capitalised on what made the story so interesting to start. Even so, the way Urban Explorer involves our reactions to and treatment of the past is compelling, raising lots of questions about modern Germany and how far the past actually is from the present in reality as opposed to in the minds of idealists.
This movie works better as an allegory of how modernity tries to forget or hide the past than it does as a solid piece of horror cinema. It has all the makings of a movie with much to say, if only its delivery were better. Father Gore simply can’t deny the enjoyable bits in the mix. Better than being a complete waste of time. Horror has great capacity in this day and age to represent our fears about the modern/postmodern world. While this could’ve come out better, at least it tries a hand at important and relevant commentary.