Tagged As Above So Below

THE PYRAMID’s Filled with Terror & Poor CGI

The Pyramid. 2014. Directed by Grégory Levasseur. Screenplay by Daniel Meersand & Nick Simon.
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Christa Nicola, Amir K, and Faycal Attougui. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
the_pyramid_poster_a_p
There’s no way that I can honestly say The Pyramid is a great horror – most of the CGI alone warrants enough criticism to put it out of the running.
However, what I can say for my personal take on Grégory Levasseur’s film is that I enjoyed it simply because it’s fun.

A movie does not need to be perfect to be enjoyable. You don’t have to either love or hate a movie; not in the real world. It’s silly to think that movies have to be flawless in order to be enjoyed.
By the same token, you can both criticize a film for its flaws while simultaneously you’re still able enjoy what you’re watching.
The Pyramid is enjoyable for me because it’s fun. It isn’t the same old found footage movie of people going out into the woods, or a tv show presented and his crew get trapped inside a haunted building. At the very least, we’re treated to a location and situation that isn’t often touched on through found footage (the only similar film is another one I enjoyed though plenty seem to hate: As Above So Below).

The Pyramid takes place during 2013 as the protests in Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi were heating up big time.
Father-daughter archaeology team, Dr. Miles Holden (Denis O’Hare – of whom I was a big fan already but especially since his genius turns on FX’s American Horror Story) and Dr. Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw) are on a dig where a pyramid with only three sides, as opposed to the four contained on the pyramids in Giza. Once the structure is unearthed, a robot is sent in – as soon as the pyramid was opened, toxic air inside killed a man in a near instant. After the robot goes offline, the Holdens, as well as their team – along with Sunni Marsh (Christa Nicola), a documentary host, and her cameraman Terry “Fitzie” Fitzsimmons – all head inside, geared up, ready to discover what they can.
Unfortunately, the area is being cleared out due to the protesting in Giza and surrounding areas. Quickly the team enters the pyramid quickly as possible without alerting any of the authorities.
Inside there are dark and dangerous things lurking amongst the shadows, things that have spent centuries feeding, and waiting for the arrival of fresh meat.
the-pyramid-2014Stop being an archaeologist for a second and start being a human being” – I keep seeing people cite bad dialogue, using this as a source. I mean, why? What makes that such a bad line? Denis O’Hare’s character was just saying he didn’t want to destroy a wall because it had been put there, however long ago, by people who’d built that pyramid, so much historical hard work. Instead of wanting to get out of that place, he was more concerned with preserving things for historical and archaeological purposes. So I don’t understand how that line comes off as poorly written dialogue. Someone please explain to me why that line written on paper is bad because I don’t see it. Maybe the delivery isn’t perfect? Either way, this is not, to me, an example of bad writing. You don’t think someone would ever say those words? Try being trapped in an ancient, underground pyramid with a guy who’d rather just suffocate alive than bust up any of the old artifacts down there. Then perhaps the line might feel more ‘natural’.
gallery-thepyramid4-gallery-imageNow, I’m not saying that The Pyramid avoids all the tropes of the found footage genre, or that it’s perfect – as I said starting out, it’s far from a perfect horror.
Typically there are always the arguments of “You lead us here”, et cetera. This moment comes, of course, after things start to get really hairy and one of the members, MIchael (Amir K) on the expedition is killed. Sunni flips on Miles and blames him for leading them down there, but as he points out she has to take responsibility because nobody forced her into the pyramid. I guess you can’t really avoid these types of arguments in found footage, as usually there is a ring leader. Most often, though, it’s usually the person insisting on keeping things filming – SO THAT THE WORLD WILL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! If anything, at least they don’t go for that exact scenario. There’s a reason to keep filming here, as just being in the pyramid alone is a pretty amazing feat. I’m just glad there isn’t the same series of arguments over “Get that camera out of my face” and “Stop asking me questions – what is wrong with you?”, and so on. Might not be all fresh, but it does still avoid some of the familiar nonsense of the sub-genre.
6_zpsbcexgskw.jpg~originalThere’s no part of me that will deny the CGI throughout The Pyramid is pretty bad. Almost all of it, honestly.
I guess when it comes to certain stories, characters, et cetera, in horror films there’s only so much you’ll be able to accomplish with practical effects beyond the blood and the murders. That being said, there’s no reason CGI has to look atrocious. I think, had the filmmakers somehow come up with a way to costume an actor instead of draping them in CGI, the Anubis creature could’ve been much more frightening.
Problem is that when bad CGI dominates the screen, there’s a real smack in the face for an audience. You go from seeing these big sets, this giant pyramid and all these hieroglyphics around, statues, to this hulking presence of bulbous CGI pushing through the frame. It’s too much of a contrast from the real look of everything else to the fake look of Anubis, as well as the other little creatures and things. I liken it to looking a nice painting then throwing a bunch of cartoon cutouts on top and acting out a scene. There’s already suspension of disbelief with a horror like this, but that doesn’t mean things need to look fake and silly looking. I’m sure it’s easier said than done to balance the budget of a huge film, especially when there are so many costs. However, with Alexandre Aja (director of such films as the fantastically gruesome High Tension, the stellar remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and another I enjoyed which others hated – adapted from Joe Hill’s novel, Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe) backing this project, you’d think there would be some way to make sure the CGI came out looking much better. Really dropped the ball on this aspect, which is one of the reasons so many people did not enjoy the film overall, I think.

SPOILER ALERT – HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
One effect I did like, or at least the second half of it, is when Dr. Miles Holden gets his heart ripped out. The first part looked a bit cheese-filled, but when the hand is sticking out, Miles is staring wide-eyed at it, and then it pulls back out of him, I thought that piece of the effect went really well. Because it didn’t look completely CGI built, it had at least a fraction of practical effects. Another bit I liked was the first night vision bit with Fitzie where he sees Dr. Holden get his face melted off – Anubis is all CGI, but the face melting still looks pretty damn gnarly!
For me, I love the practical make-up effects instead of big nonsense computerized junk – any day of the week. Most horrors will at least get a star or two alone from me if there’s an effort on the part of practicality. If not, I find it hard to engage with. Some horror does have pretty good CGI, but the good ones in that arena are those that don’t overuse it either – they know when to employ it, sparse, and they recognize all the other times where there’s no need of it at all. So, if The Pyramid was able to include more effects of a practical nature there might have been a better visceral reaction to all the other.
The Pyramid 2014 HD WallpapersI can’t recommend The Pyramid in that way I would recommend other horror movies I’ve enjoyed. Simply because I don’t think this is a great movie.
But like I said in the beginning – you don’t have to think a movie is perfect to have a good time watching. There are fun bits in The Pyramid. While the CGI is far from anything I thought worked, there’s adventure to this horror-thriller. We don’t have to watch a bunch of young people running around in the woods, constantly screaming – both in terror and at one another – there’s actually a different story here than the same old tripe with which we’re presented.
The Pyramid does not need to be perfect. Sure, I would’ve loved to see a lot of changes because this could’ve been an absolutely excellent horror movie if there were better practical effects and not so much reliance on the bad CGI. Especially the final 10 minutes – Anubis looked the worst when the red flare lighting was glowing and you could seem him terribly clear. Before, he skulked around in the dark, so there were times it didn’t look as glaringly bad.
So there is plenty of room for improvement. I don’t deny that at all.
What I’m saying is, just because a movie doesn’t work as a 5-star film does not mean it has to be without merits. There is at least some decent acting, a halfway sensible script (despite what others might say), and an intriguing location/plot to work around in. See this for a bit of fun – don’t expect something on the level of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but don’t expect a complete piece of trash like some reviews might have you believe.

Enjoy – or don’t! That’s up to yourself.

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Found Footage – 15 Films Worth Watching

The found footage sub-genre can be one of division. Some people like certain found footage films. Others don’t like the entire category, can’t stand it. I’m one of those who likes the genre. A lot. But only if it’s used to an advantage, if it works well. Sometimes the concept just falls flat on its face. On the other hand, when a competent director gets ahold of a story and uses found footage correctly it can really be a treat. One thing worth noting is that a lot of times the actors involved end up shooting parts of the film. In the case of Blair Witch for instance a great deal of the footage (I can’t speculate how much but I’m sure near all of it) was caught on film by the actors themselves. Whatever the case may be, however it comes together, found footage in the right hands is a great sub-genre for filmmakers to use, and more often than not it can be frightening as hell.

Here are 15 of my personal favourite found footage films. Most of which I would consider to be the horror genre. And these are in descending order towards my favourite of them all.

15. The Collingswood Story (2002)
600full-the-collingswood-story-coverThis is one of the lesser-seen on this list, no doubt. If only because it hasn’t been widely available on DVD, and as far as I know it isn’t on Netflix. I was lucky enough to see it a couple years ago. Mostly, to be honest, it can be boring, but for me it’s all about the payoff. If I can make it through to the end of a film (check my mention of Soft for Digging in previous post) I find a little less than exciting and the finale blows me away, I will always be impressed. This is one of those films which doesn’t have a lot going on. It’s the last 10 or so minutes that really change the game. A creepy story involving a weird house, typical. However, this film really uses found footage well as a concept, and I think that also gives this a spot on the list.

14. The Houses October Built (2014)
The Houses October Built MovieFor a full review, click here.

I’ve never seen the documentary of the same name (also directed by Bobby Roe). This movie terrifies me. The concept is simple: a group of friends seek out the most extreme scare, to find where the wildest haunted houses across America are located. Of course they get what they’re looking for, just not exactly how they expected to find it. One thing I really loved about this flick is that the acting seemed so natural. A lot of found footage films come off as forced. These people seemed like they were very familiar with one another. Certainly they probably are, as they all appeared in the documentary The Houses October Built together. So there must have been an advantage due to that. Either way, I thought that really helped when it comes to character development. It felt like I was watching a group of friends who’d known each other a long time, made me really invest in them. When the terror really hits it can get very creepy. At one point, you’ll know it, Brandy (essentially Brandy Schaefer playing herself) is slowly figuring out she may now be alone, without her friends to protect her, and it is an extremely chilling moment. Got to me. I highly recommend this one. It’s especially great when Halloween comes around again.

13. Afflicted (2013)afflicted-featuredFor my full review, click here.

This one came out of nowhere. Another film that really capitalizes on real life friendships. Derek Lee and Clif Prowse play themselves here pretty much. In the film, they’re taking a massive trip around the world, documenting everything on camera. However, the reason for doing so is because Derek has found out he’s got a serious disease, and it could very well take his life. So, all the more reason to do the trip of a lifetime with his friend Clif. While overseas though, Derek encounters a mysterious woman, and afterwards he seems to be changing. Into what, who knows. I really, really enjoyed this to the fullest. I won’t spoil this at all by telling you what Derek is turning into because it’s best left to slowly figure out. Not that it’s difficult. But it’s just worth discovering on your own. The realization setting in almost puts you in Derek’s shoes. All in all I think this is a good use of found footage, and really imaginative story with some well-done effects to boot.

12. The Conspiracy (2012)640px-Poster_for_The_Conspiracy_(2012_Film)For my full review, click here.

One of my favourite things about scary movies is that some of them can be terrifying without really being what you’d call a ‘horror’ movie. One in particular, when concerning found footage, is The Conspiracy. I for one love the whole Bilderberg conspiracy theory/theories. Not that I necessarily buy into it all, or dismiss it all either, but I just love it- so much excitement in those conspiracy theories, and the theorists themselves. This film plays off all that. A couple filmmakers are doing a documentary on conspiracy theories, but it gets very dangerous, very real once they discover links here and there to a secret society that has been around for years. This movie mixes Bilderberg and Bohemian Grove stories together, and it really works. The finale is something to be seen. I found it all fairly scary. It’s not a horror, but it will definitely get to you in ways most horrors will. My interest in conspiracy/all related matters is most likely the reason this one is on the list. Really made this film work for me.

11. Exists (2014)exists_06There is nothing like a good creature feature. Essentially, Exists is a creature feature, but it’s dressed up like a found footage film. This works. Combining the real life typical plot of going into the woods up to a cabin with some friends and a really great looking sasquatch costume design, this film packs a punch. At times I was absolutely frightened to death. Bigfoot looks amazing. You don’t really get a great look at the creature most of the time; at first it’s a lot of quick, blurred images, slowly some more defined shots. Finally it all culminates near the finale when one of the characters comes literally face-to-face with the sasquatch. And is it ever wild. They did a great job making him look man-like yet still scarily ape, massive, and horrifying. I loved this. Worked really well.

10. The Last Horror Movie (2003)

For a full review, click here.
045072H3-1Everyone knows the classic mockumentary Man Bites Dog, and it is a doozy. Well this is my choice for the “serial killer makes a movie”-type plot. The Last Horror Movie is a frighteningly real depiction of a serial killer who decides he ought to make a true movie. He documents gruesome, horrific murders. There’s nothing much more to it. Though he does offer some psychotic ramblings to go along, it’s all mainly about the murders. Man, are they rough. There’s one in particular I actually cringe while watching (something which rarely happens nowadays as I’ve become almost desensitized on some levels) where he lights a person on fire and lets them burn. Very, very disturbing. Although I do recommend this one. It starts off as a VHS tape rented from the local video store; another little bit I really enjoy. Adds some character. So if you want some really depraved stuff, then go ahead, watch this one. It will bite on your nerves.

9. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
the-blair-witch-projectFor a full review, click here.

Everyone knows this one. I don’t need to describe it. What I will say is this.. when the movie first came out I was about 15-years old. I hadn’t seen it yet, but I knew I would love it. I asked mom to get it for me. For my birthday, or Christmas, who knows. Anyways, when I got it on VHS I remember watching it a bunch of times. It frightened the life out of me. It was the whole thing that did it. But specifically those last moments, when Mike is turned against the wall.. it kills me. There are several moments which chill me to the bone in The Blair Witch Project. I still think it’s one of the best found footage films out there, and certainly the one that really kicked off the modern fascination with this sub-genre.

8. Frankenstein’s Army (2013)Frankenstein's_Army_DVD_coverFor my full review, click here.

I love any kind of horror movie that incorporates World War II and/or Nazi Germany. It’s fascinating. Frankenstein’s Army works really well. It’s at a time when sound recording with film was still relatively a new and fascinating thing. The concept of found footage works well here. There’s even one point where Frankenstein himself (played by the always fascinating Karel Roden) asks about the camera being used, and remarks he has never seen one “of those types of camera… with sound“. Great little film. There are some genuinely weird and creepy moments in this one. A lot of Frankenstein’s forgotten toys, it seems. When they start spilling out the woodwork it’s really something to behold. I was frightened a few times, just trying to put myself in someone’s shoes back then, seeing things that we wouldn’t see until almost 70 years later, and only because of the imagination of film. It’s an impressive found footage horror, and certainly belongs on this list.

7. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
tGfBTG.pngFor my full review, click here.

I’d heard about this a long while before it actually came out, mainly because of Bryan Singer’s attachment as producer. Regardless, it turned out to be a super creepy little movie. Posing as a documentary about Alzheimers and those suffering with it as well as their caretakers, The Taking of Deborah Logan turns into something very scary. At first it seems like the disease is taking its toll on the titular Deborah. She scrapes her fingers until the nails nearly come off in her flower bed. At night, she’s climbing onto the counters while sleepwalking. Soon it becomes worse, and worse. And worse. Things get really scary, as Deborah’s past unfolds, and it comes back to haunt her. Literally. There are some extremely terrifying images in this one. The finale of the film is absolutely wild. I loved every second of it. I kept rewinding one part because I thought it was just so well done – the effects, everything. So satisfying. There were a few times I gasped out loud. I really recommend this to anyone tired of the same old plots in found footage, also.  This is a unique and fresh look at the sub-genre.

6. The Sacrament (2013)

For a full & in-depth review, click here.
large_sacrament Ti West is an absolute monster in the horror field. I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. I’ve been a fan of his since The House of the Devil, purchased his first feature film The Roost which I also really loved. His films are phenomenal. One of only two feature films West has not shot using film, The Sacrament is a found footage-style look at a Jim Jones-ish cult and its charismatic leader. There’s not much else to tell plot-wise. Other than a few minor bits, West uses Jones’ story almost verbatim at certain points. But that’s not for a lack of originality. West sort of gives Jones’ story to a modern audience, some of whom might not know the story (though who they are I don’t know myself), and sets it in a world where everyone knows VICE, and how they report on stories. West sets the story in a digital world. One where the cameras are rolling. Unlike the actual massacre, we get to see everything instead of just hearing bits of audio. We experience all the deaths, the throes of agony, the screaming, wailing children and men and women dying everywhere. We hear the gunshots and the merciless shouting and the tears. It’s all there. This is an unsettling film. Anyone who passes this off as merely a rehash of Jim Jones is wrong. The story is much the same, but it is worth the watch to experience all Ti West has conjured up for us.

5. V/H/S/2 (2013) & V/H/S: Viral (2014)

For my Blu ray review of the first V/H/S, click here.
For my Blu ray review on V/H/S/2, click here.
As well as a review of V/H/S: Viral here.

I’m a fan of the entire V/H/S trilogy, however, I think the 2nd & 3rd entries are both huge improvements on the first. The 3rd, being the best of all, is an even bigger improvement on the 2nd.vhs2_posterFor starters, V/H/S 2 contained two very well executed shorts: Eduardo Sánchez and Gregg Hale’s “A Ride in the Park”, & Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto’s “Safe Haven”. The first is an absolutely fantastic POV zombie short about a man who goes for a bike ride in the park forest only to end up with the only disease worse than cancer: zombie. I really loved it. Great use of found footage and the zombie genre.
The second, “Safe Haven”, follows a documentary crew into an Indonesian cult’s complex where things slowly spiral out of control, and one of them discovers they’ve fathered more than just a baby with a good friend’s girl. This is a wild, wild ride. Lots of gore, lots of weirdness, and even a little dark humour to top things off. I really enjoyed it.
VHS-Viral-Glow-Faced-Body-Horror
V/H/S: Viral is, in my humble opinion, the best, or at the least most imaginative, of all three entries in this trilogy. The first short, Gregg Bishop’s “Dante the Great”, is a great little horror about a magician who discovers a cloak that can help him achieve even the most unknown of tricks. I really liked this one. Very unique take on horror, and honestly makes me crave a full-length feature about some sort of magician crossed with the horror genre; it works well here. The second is a mindbender from frequent mindfucker Nacho Vigalondo called “Parallel Monsters”. Basically it’s a view into another world. And it is god damn terrifying. I’ll say no more. The third segment (a fourth was cut from the first release on VOD but apparently will be added in later) is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, who previously co-directed the interesting Resolution, is called “Bonestorm”. It’s a bunch of skater kids versus a strange Mexican death cult of some sort, who barrel out of the desert towards the as they kick flip and ollie around a skate park littered with animal feces and strange shrines. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, I think this is the best one of the lot. It’s pure horror. I loved it. Not that the other shorts in this 3rd installment aren’t great – they are – I just think Benson and Moorehead tap into the real horror, and it’s a great little bloody short with an almost homage to Evans’ previous ending in “Safe Haven”, although not as blackly comic as that. All in all, both of these V/H/S films are worth checking out, and even the first, but the latest two have really picked up in quality moving forward.

4. Lovely Molly (2011)

Read my review for the Blu ray release, which is spectacular and creepy as all hell.
gretchen-lodge-as-molly-in-lovely-molly-2011There are a lot of disturbing things going on in this one. Another Sánchez directed film (as were Blair Witch Exists if I failed to mention, and also “A Ride in the Park” from V/H/S 2 which I did mention). This is about two newlyweds who move back to the wife’s (Molly) childhood home, where she once lived with her seemingly crazy, cruel, demented father. Soon things begin to happen. The husband is worried. His new wife once had a serious drug habit, and it starts to come back. But something is spurring it on, leading her down that path again. Something very dark. There are some great shots in this. Particularly one later in the film where Molly walks out into the darkness, into the arms of something creepy, maybe dangerous. It’s highly unsettling. Watch this. There are some disturbing shots here that will linger on and on.

3. As Above, So Below (2014)
AsAboveSoBelow_BenFeldman-1024x576Perhaps it’s my interest in strange history, alchemy (et cetera), or maybe this is just one well-done found footage film. Whatever. I think this is fantastic. The plot is great: a young explorer tries to carry on her father’s work searching for the Philosopher’s Stone. Along with some help, after discovering the key to a complicated map in the cave systems below Iran, she ventures into the catacombs below Paris, into hidden chambers where she believes the Philosopher Stone might just be found. I thought this film played out very nicely. There were some genuinely chilling moments. One is in the trailer, in fact. However, there is a moment where a hooded figure sits on a creepy little chair, and even though nothing really happens it’s just the atmosphere which really draws me in and captivates me. So scary. The end was not typical of most found footage films, and I have to applaud it for finishing on the note it did. Different. I think this is worth a watch. It’s unique. We don’t always have to see the same recurring plot over and over. It’s nice to mix things up a little with found footage, and it can work in a variety of ways. As Above, So Below showcases how it can work when mixed with a little history and adventure. This is like a found footage horror version of Indiana Jones at times. Great film.

2. Noroi: The Curse (2005)
0c04aaf109299e9f705e8a26aba_prevI already talked about this one in my previous Halloween list. If you want detail, head back there! Just know this is one of the creepiest found footage films ever, and just a fascinatingly scary horror in general.

For my full review of this horrifying film, click here.

1. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)poughkeepsietapes7* For a full & chilling review, click here.

The granddaddy of them all – The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Lucky for me I caught this a long while ago, and earlier this year actually it briefly appeared on VOD for a short time before it was pulled (just like how out of nowhere its theatrical release got pulled seemingly). Nobody can find it nowadays. Turns out this is by the same director who went on to do another of my favourites from just earlier in the list, As Above, So Below. I’m hoping with some success from his latest film it might prompt someone to distribute this one, because when I saw this film I was transformed. I couldn’t believe it. Every image seemed to horrify me worse than the last. Things escalate more and more. The whole thing is a series of tapes left by a serial killer who of course recorded all his crimes. He is the ultimate killer. His methods change from kill to kill. He is always one step ahead of police and profiles and FBI agents alike. It’s truly scary. Some of the masks the killer wears, including a Plague Doctor mask, are just the worst things you can imagine. Terrible, and perfect. This is truly a symphony of horrors. There is one scene where the killer answers his door and meets two little Girl Guides. As the audience watches, he teeters on the edge of either letting them go or killing them. You can never tell which. Until finally they walk out the door. It’s once they leave we get the real horror- one of his victims was underneath the coffee table the whole time. It is a horrifying moment. The whole movie sticks with you long after it is over. I highly recommend this. Definitely the most scary and wild found footage horror film I have ever seen. If you get the chance, check it out, and you will not be disappointed. You certainly won’t get any sleep.