The Pyramid


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Pyramid
"For a film entirely dependent on cliché, The Pyramid does a passable job of building up a sense of dread and making us root for characters who, by genre standards, make a succession of very foolish decisions."

Ever since Howard Carter cracked open the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, the belief that Ancient Egyptian ruins are protected by powerful curses has been part of popular folklore. It had been rife among locals for as long as anyone could remember, and it was made still more famous in the West by writers like Louisa May Alcott and HP Lovecraft (the latter ghostwriting for Houdini). Many educated people still take it seriously today, and the stories have changed little in the intervening years, even if cinematic tales like The Mummy have told them with a little less reverence. Grégory Levasseur's claustrophobic little tale of terror sticks scrupulously to the template. There are absolutely no surprises here, but in a tale of this type, that's not necessarily a flaw.

The setting is a modern one. Our archaeologist heroes have uncovered a hidden pyramid lost beneath the sands by using satellite scanning technology. Their first attempt at exploration is done using a remote rover. Reports of unrest in Cairo provides some tension as the story begins and provides it with a very clear sense of time. A documentary crew provides an excuse for the found footage element, and having that footage transmitted back to the surface digitally gives writers Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon more flexibility than the genre usually allows, though Levasseur breaks with the format in one climactic scene where action takes precedence over consistency.

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For a film entirely dependent on cliché, The Pyramid does a passable job of building up a sense of dread and making us root for characters who, by genre standards, make a succession of very foolish decisions. This is in large part down to Ashley Hinshaw, who brings emotional weight to her character despite long periods when she does little more than whimper. James Buckley is also good in support, though some judicious editing might have spared us the part where he does nothing but state over and over again that it's time they found a way out, as if we didn't know that already. This may not be unrealistic but it makes the viewer's experience akin to being stuck next to a six year old on a long car journey. The mixture of characters excuses some of the necessary exposition and allows for the presentation of myths and puzzles of the sort that fans of the genre enjoy. A few mythological details are wrong, which is annoying, but it's still ahead of the pack in this regard.

The real weakness of the film, aside from its failure to find anything of its own to say, is one common to the genre: there's an awful lot of running round the corridors (or crawling round the tunnels in this case) without much happening. The mixture of monsters helps with this, and it's a neat trick to introduce small ones that are a threat to individuals but not to the group. They're quite creepy in early scenes when kept mostly offscreen. Unfortunately the end level boss, for all his Egyptian styling, looks far too similar to a dozen other monsters of recent years.

Alexandre Aja produced this film and occasionally his influence becomes visible, but Levasseur's direction tends to the pedestrian and overall it never takes off the way it might. Nevertheless, it's a bold effort that makes a lot of a relatively small budget and fares pretty well in comparison to the blockbusters it really set out to compete with.

Reviewed on: 21 Jun 2015
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The Pyramid packshot
Archaeologists and documentary makers become trapped in a hitherto undiscovered pyramid.

Director: Grégory Levasseur

Writer: Daniel Meersand, Nick Simon

Starring: Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, Denis O'Hare, Christa Nicola, Amir K, Faycal Attougui

Year: 2014

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US


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