A desert bomb

”Maybe we’ll find the ending here.”

”Maybe we’ll find the ending here.”

Rated 1.0

It seems almost cruel to beat up on a sorry little hunk of ineptitude like The Pyramid. Even its studio, 20th Century Fox, appears not to have very high hopes for it, releasing it in only 589 theaters when at least 600 is considered the minimum for a “national” release. No doubt Fox is counting on cable and video to recoup the picture’s modest production costs.

As it happens, the studio’s lack of faith in The Pyramid is wholly justified. Even by the less-than-lofty standards of don’t-go-in-that-dark-room-you-idiot horror movies, it’s a stinker.

In this case, however, there’s a slight variation. It’s not a single dark room that the characters stupidly go into. It’s an endless array of dark rooms, all of them in a buried pyramid discovered in the Egyptian desert 200 miles south of Cairo in the summer of 2013. The discoverers are the Egyptologist Holden (Denis O’Hare) and his daughter Nora (Ashley Hinshaw). As the movie opens, the two have unearthed only the apex of the pyramid (helpfully explaining, for those who have forgotten their ninth-grade geometry, that “apex” means “top”), but from that they have been able to calculate that the full structure is some 600 feet high, dwarfing the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Documenting the Holdens’ dig is a reporter named Sunni (Christa Nicola) and her cameraman Fitzie (James Buckley). This, naturally, allows for that most irritating and overused of horror movie clichés, the fiction of found video (“The following details the results of their discovery”). In The Pyramid this premise is carried to new depths of lameness by writers Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon. They frequently write themselves into corners where there’s no way Fitzie’s camera could catch the action; when that happens, they (and director Grégory Levasseur) simply abandon the premise in favor of conventional filmmaking—placing the camera in a dark tunnel looking back at the first person to enter it, things like that. This only adds to the growing pile of evidence that the pseudo-documentary, found-video premise is merely an excuse for sloppy camerawork—and indeed, The Pyramid has no cinematographer credit. (I wouldn’t want it on my résumé either.)

In The Pyramid it’s an excuse for sloppy writing as well. Simon and Meersand load their actors—especially poor Hinshaw—with some pretty clumsy dialogue. This can range from the over-obvious (explaining the meaning of “apex”) to great indigestible chunks of exposition (“The ancient Egyptians believed …”). And the movie ends in a way that calls into question exactly who found all this video, and how.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. As riots in Cairo over the 2013 military coup threaten the stability of the government, Egyptian authorities pull the plug on the Holdens’ dig and order everybody back (though you’d think they’d be safer and less under foot if they stayed where they are). Meanwhile, however, the archaeological team has sent a NASA rover into the pyramid to look around. When the video feed appears to show the darting presence of some sort of wild animal, then abruptly goes dead, the Holdens inexplicably decide that they’d rather face whatever’s in the pyramid than the anger of NASA over the loss of their borrowed rover. So into the hole they go, led by their technician (and Nora’s lover) Zahir (Amir K) and followed by Sunni, Fitzie and their cameras.

I don’t want to arouse the anger of the Spoiler Police, so I think I’ll just leave it there. I will mention, though, that if you absolutely insist on seeing this thing, you might want to Google the god Anubis and his function in ancient Egyptian mythology—because the explanation we get from Simon and Meersand sounds a little convoluted in the heat of the moment. Otherwise, The Pyramid devolves into something suspiciously reminiscent of As Above, So Below from earlier this year.

This time, of course, we’re stuck in a maze under the Sahara rather than the streets of Paris. But the results are quite similar. Like As Above, So Below, The Pyramid has no real suspense—unless you count the suspense of impatiently waiting for it all to be over —and even the cheap scares are few and far between.

As then, so now.