Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sand Lot

Year: 2014
Director: Grégory Levasseur
Cast: Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Denis O'Hare
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

"The Pyramid is not found footage," says everyone. So why does it put so much effort into including the most generic and boring tropes of the waning cinéma vérité genre? We get a documentary crew following a team of archaeologists, a preposterous amount of awkwardly shoved-in cameras used to display footage (including the most technologically sophisticated, high-def webcam to ever hit the shelves), the We Must Keep Filming Because the Camera Has A Light trope, audio-visual feedback when scary things begin to happen, stark black and white title cards with no credits at the beginning, and - oh yeah - the movie is shot handheld by its own characters.

Tossing in some pedestrian musical score and occasional shots that couldn't possibly be achieved unless the monsters had their own Go-Pros doesn't make The Pyramid a non-found footage movie. It just makes it an extremely irritating one.

But at the very least, that's one sexy pyramid. Woof.

So. We have what I'm going to go ahead and call a found footage movie about Egypt. That's cool, I guess. The Pyramid wins points by including at least one Egyptian character amongst the lily white proceedings. He's naturally the first to be culled from the pack, but it's December horror. We takes what we gets.

The plot revolves around a father-daughter archaeology team - Nora (Ashley Hinshaw) and Holden (American Horror Story's Denis O'Hare), who have recently used satellite technology to discover a rare three-sided pyramid buried deep beneath the Egyptian desert. By the looks of it though, the only technology Hinshaw has touched recently is an elliptical machine, because there is no earthly explanation for how apocalyptically hot this supposed archaeologist is.

Hollywood is a turgid swamp where female scientists have perfect make-up and double D's, yet we're led to believe that both Sofía Vergara and Scarlett Johansson will give Jon Favreau the time of day.

They are accompanied by Michael Zahir (Amir K), a robotics technician who is perplexingly referred to by either his first or last name depending on the mood of the screenwriters or possibly the phases of the moon. He appears to be in some poorly sketched-out relationship with Nora despite the fact that his character is introduced while he uses a three million dollar cambot to spy on her changing in her tent. Just guys being dudes, I suppose.

This trio is being followed by the indefatigable documentarian Sunni (Christa Nicola) and her cameraman Fitzie (James Buckley). When political unrest in Cairo reaches its peak, the team is instructed to evacuate the camp, but - god love those archaeologists - they can't stomach the thought of leaving without taking a peek inside that dang pyramid. Inevitably they get trapped inside with sinister... sphinx cats. They dodge these wicked... cats and navigate ancient Indiana Jones traps, only to discover that something far more nefarious is rumbling in the stone structure's depths.

I'm only a little bit kidding.

All I can say is that, while The Pyramid ends up being pretty stupid, it's not nearly as stupid as it could have been, what with its early, thankfully fruitless intimations about pyramids being alien receivers. But as it stands, it's still full of brainless characters dribbling shallow dialogue about a poorly represented culture. There's a couple decent shock gags, but they come few and far between, sandwiched within mountains of pseudo-history and nonexistent character moments (Sunni is a rock climber, Holden doesn't like his daughter hanging out with boys, Fitzie is a whiny prick, it's not exactly Tennessee Williams).

The actors aren't given a lot to work with, but none of them rise to the challenge either. Even Denis O'Hare grapples with the dialogue, which is as rough-hewn as the limestone chunks in the pyramid walls ("Stop being an archaeologist and be a human being!" "We're like food in a bowl down here."). The others might as well have their scripts in their hands, because each word-heavy scene feels like a first readthrough and Hinshaw especially is too shallow a vessel for the profoundly verbose science exposition she is burdened with.

"According to his heteronormative psychoplasty categorization, this man is suffering from acute deoxyribonucleic deterioration and I want to inflict a bilateral periorbital hematoma on whoever made me say this."

It's viable enough as throwaway popcorn entertainment, but the finale is pointlessly galling and by the time Nora is trapped between [a couple hissing sphinx cats] and [the actual Egyptian god Anubis], unable to figure out that she should [just run through the cats. They're cats.], you want to scream with irate frustration until your lungs implode. There's also some shoddy CGI tossed in for good measure, just to make sure you really feel it.

But up until that point, The Pyramid is a mostly engaging generic thriller about moderately interesting human beings trapped in a place where they patently shouldn't be. It's entirely possible to slip out of the movie for 20 minutes or so and slide back in without missing a beat, making the film the ideal date night treat for young couples looking to get their mack on in the dark. It's perfect - The Pyramid is easy to follow, it's not scary enough that your wimpier half will want to ditch, and there's bound to be next to nobody in the theater to interrupt your illicit back row rendezvous. And it's not like the dialogue is actually valuable to listen to in order to retain the shape of the plot.

My carbon dating would seem to indicate that these carvings were made by ancient Egyptians.

But in the field of 2014 horror, The Pyramid is just a blip on the radar. Like Ouija before it, it's harmless if pointless entertainment. Annoying genre categorization and confounding third act aside, it's not really bad enough to hate, though it's not nearly good enough to applaud. It's merely another middling horror effort in a year that isn't quite inspiring in any direction.

TL;DR: The Pyramid is annoying at times, but it's decent enough as popcorn horror.
Rating: 5/10
Should I Spend Money On This? If you feel like it, given what I have to say. Bring someone to smooch.
Word Count: 1047


  1. "it's not really bad enough to hate, though it's not nearly good enough to applaud."

    The title of my autobiography

  2. Another low budget wide release horror flick, another decent to average flick. I don't know how you do it sometimes Brennan seeing all of these hah. You are a true die hard.

    1. Well, you've got your share of hard knocks in your chosen genre too. It's the paths we choose, Zach.

    2. We have no choice but to press on...

  3. No mummy. NO MUMMY.

    Actually, the only reason I'm not seeing it in theaters is because I'm 90% sure it'd make me motion sick.

    Brennan, if you need an essay topic, I suggest trying to figure out why the one classic monster actually suited to a paranormal romance has not yet been tapped by content-starved YA writers and their lucre-obsessed cinenatic adaptors. Because I want a mummy love story damnit.

    1. I think the biggest problem with that is it's hard to romanticize a dead person with actual withered flesh. Not super sexy. Although, with a quick rearranging of the mummy genre rules, you could be on to something lucrative...

    2. "I think the biggest problem with that is it's hard to romanticize a dead person with actual withered flesh."

      Tell me about it. I'm 32.

      (Arnold Vosloo looked pretty fit, though.)