Disaster of the Year — “The Pyramid”

Pyramid how not to excavate a pyramid

by Gabriel Valdez

The Pyramid is a calamity of rare proportions. Sure, more expensive films have become greater disappointments because of the expectations we place in them. A largely point-of view horror movie, The Pyramid neither cost much to make nor had any expectations that it would be good. Yet very few movies so creatively find new ways to fail every 10 minutes.

The Pyramid is a pioneer into the depths of terrible – not simply content with mere badness, it keeps on discovering fresh ways to make you scratch your head and ask, “Really?” If it had slightly better intentions, I’d be tempted to place it in the Ed Wood Memorial Pantheon of movies that are so bad they’re good.

The premise is simple: a team of archaeologists and documentary filmmakers descend into an ancient pyramid to face cannibal zombie cats, an angry Egyptian god, kinda deadly traps, and most terrifying of all: a room full of the cannibal zombie cats’ droppings. But wait! There’s more:

Before making this movie, no one seems to have researched anything about archaeology (or medicine, or scriptwriting, or holding a camera, for that matter). Each character will whine at the others incessantly, only taking breaks to roll their eyes knowingly at the camera. This is annoying but acceptable – most of The Pyramid is found footage. The audience pretends this is real footage discovered later a la The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity.

Pyramid awfully bright in this pyramid

Director Gregory Levasseur forgets his genre at hilariously random moments, switching between characters’ points of view and an omniscient cinematographer without reason or warning. The most crucial aspect of POV movies is to establish a rhythm with the audience that indicates to us whose perspective we’re viewing, even during frenetic action sequences that cut back and forth quickly. It’s a cinematic geography formed through staging and editing.

It’s not that there’s no rhythm in The Pyramid, it’s that there’s not even any awareness that there should be. I was often unsure of characters’ interactions during action scenes and that omniscient cinematographer pops up so frequently that you’ll repeatedly mistake it for a real character’s perspective. Levasseur’s is a ridiculous failure in understanding the basics of the genre in which he’s directing.

In terms of story, this is a cast that features no leaders, people with courage, or intelligence. I’m prepared for people to make stupid decisions in horror movies – sometimes that’s half the fun – but The Pyramid takes the phrase “stupid decision” as a challenge.

I briefly began wondering if the film realized how bad it was when it started delivering dialogue like, “Stop being an archaeologist and be a human being for once,” and “Robot guy just got killed by something we can’t identify!” There’s some choice cheese in here, but a series of increasingly tedious and inexplicable climaxes quickly dull any sense of fun that threatens to creep in. The ending is so bad, I wondered if the film was simply trolling its audience by trying to be the worst found footage movie it could be.

Pyramid these hieroglyphs say our art director failed to google hieroglyphs

Compare The Pyramid to an underrated POV gem from earlier in the year: As Above, So Below. The earlier film boasted intelligent characters, including a fantastic leader. When things went wrong, they would slow the situation down and take stock of it. Injuries warranted field medicine and new strategies to accommodate the wounded. Impossible situations required puzzle solving and teamwork. To them, hopelessness and panic became as dangerous an enemy as anything lurking in the shadows. This situational give-and-take created a captivating one step forward, two steps back narrative that’s key to horror. It also gave me characters I was excited to cinematically follow into danger.

With the team of whining buffoons in The Pyramid, I was just rooting for the cannibal zombie cats to eat them already. Seriously, those cats looked pretty underfed. The deadly traps are only deadly because our heroes are complete imbeciles and “tragically” bump each other into them. The most terrifying thing about the angry Egyptian god is his cheap CGI – always opt for make-up effects when making budget horror. If you’re not predicting every jump scare to the millisecond by the time you’re halfway through The Pyramid, then you’ve never seen a horror movie before.

Some outlets request I give movies I review a score. I keep those off this site because I don’t think scores are useful shortcuts to judging art, but I gave The Pyramid half a star out of four, which is like giving it points for writing its name correctly at the top of the test. It’s terrible. Go rent As Above, So Below, or sit down with a more classic horror movie instead. (Here’s what we chose as Our Favorite Horrors back on Halloween.)

Personally, I break out John Carpenter’s The Thing every Winter to get in the proper freezing out of my mind spirit.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does The Pyramid have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Ashley Hinshaw plays Nora, the daughter of the lead archeologist and an archeologist herself. Christa Nicola plays the documentary’s director and narrator.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes.

Horror may be the only genre in which it’s very difficult to not pass the Bechdel Test. As a genre, it seems to involve multiple women as main characters at a higher rate than any other. This isn’t always for the most noble reasons – horror movies need a number of characters so that many of them can be picked off over the course of a film. But the Bechdel Test isn’t about being noble, it’s about treating women like everyone else in the film, whatever that may entail.

There are, essentially, three main male characters, two main female characters, one supporting male character, and a buncha cannibal zombie cats. The Pyramid does include a brief lingerie scene for one of its female leads, so it’s momentarily exploitative without being equal opportunity about it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a cheesecake scene, but if you’re going to put one in, I’m sure a lot of women (and men) wouldn’t have minded Amir K with his shirt off.

That said, The Pyramid could have just included the women as monster fodder. Instead, it puts them in positions of professional power and expertise. That power and expertise may not be well written, but it’s not well written for the men either. The Pyramid deserves some credit for exposing every character to its awfulness equally.

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