Charlie Manx is coming to toooown
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.
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.
“Stop 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’.
Now, 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.
There’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.
I 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.
Horns. 2014. Dir. Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Keith Bunin; based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, and David Morse. Mandalay Pictures.
120 minutes. Rated R.
Horror can often look like a tired genre. The heyday of 1970s psychological horror and 1980s slashers passed quickly, while birthing some extremely talented artists. This period gave way to a fairly unoriginal decade throughout the 90s. However, since the year 2000 there have been some new horror directors stepping out of the shadows to reclaim the genre.
One in particular is French director Alexandre Aja. He got his first big break with his French horror Haute Tension (English title: High Tension), which brought him to the attention of American horror master Wes Craven. Aja was given the privilege of remaking Craven’s own The Hills Have Eyes: one of the only worthy horror remakes in recent memory.
Horns, based on the best-selling novel by author Joe Hill whose famous father happens to be Stephen King, is Aja’s newest film, and for the most part it is a very fun, very wild ride.
Horns is about a man named Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) who recently lost his girlfriend Merrin (Temple). She was brutally murdered, and everyone thinks Ig did the deed. After some time Ig caves and sleeps with an old friend of his while drinking heavily. The next morning, to his horror, Ig discovers two horns have started to sprout out of his temples—all of a sudden people start telling him things he never asked to hear. From one person to the next, Ig hears everyone’s dark, dirty secrets. At first it seems more of a burden, but soon he decides to use his newly discovered persuasiveness to root out his girlfriend’s murderer and prove his innocence.
The story itself is wonderfully weird. I’m a fan of Stephen King myself, and knowing now Hill shares his father’s predilection for the macabre I will most certainly be picking up a copy of Horns to read, as well as other books.
There’s just enough horror to keep it in the genre, but this story really works because of its humour. Ig hears his share of disturbing tales and sadness due to the horns, but it’s the comedy that comes out of a few conversations that really got to me. I’m not a huge horror-comedy fan, but this script worked well enough with both elements.
Though Hill did not write the screenplay, it’s easy to see he and his father are drawn to similar stories; the flashbacks to Ig’s childhood are reminiscent of some scenes from King’s novel It, both in setting and tone. While the comparisons are there, Hill is most certainly his own man. I’m hoping some of his other work will end up being adapted soon enough.
My personal favourite part of Horns is Daniel Radcliffe. For one, the guy does a near flawless American accent. A lot of British actors play Americans on film, but Radcliffe is one of the few who can slip into the accent and never waver. Juno Temple does a fine job as well. This film, though, is all Radcliffe. His performance is incredible. Always determined to shed the perpetual image of Potter, here he hurls curse words, strips down to nothing, and conveys every shade of emotion on the spectrum. But more than that, he’s natural. Nothing about his performance feels forced.
I was always a fan, but after Horns I can definitively say I think Radcliffe is one of the best young actors out there. In the final act of the film he acts circles around everyone else on screen.
I would highly recommend this film to anybody. If you’re a horror fan, Aja provides a few creepy little bits to satisfy true genre lovers. For those who aren’t so inclined, Hill’s story is actually a beautiful romance disguised as a horror-comedy. If you let it, Horns will grab hold of you. My only complaint about the film is its use of CGI. Though there are a few really graphic bits where Aja sticks to practical effects, a lot of the film’s finale was very plastic looking. There was no other way to really do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t look all that good. Unfortunately, these few effects near the end really take away from some of the film’s emotional weight. I found myself not caring as much about what happened in the last five minutes as I did about just making it to the end credits. That being said, it did not ruin the film. It’s another great step in Alexandre Aja’s career as an interesting and important director of modern horror.