“This Pyramid, Unlike Any Structure Other I’ve Ever Encountered, Seems to Have Been Built With the Express Purpose of Keeping Whatever Is Inside From Escaping…” – Holden
Poorly lit, inconsistently shot and lazily written, The Pyramid, released in 2014, is a horror flick that perfectly demonstrates the notion that giving a large budget to a project doesn’t necessarily make it a success. In the case of The Pyramid, this claustrophobic (predominantly) found-footage horror was given a budget of almost £6 million, a rather substantial amount of funding for a modern horror. Yet, even with a budget of this size, the film squanders almost every penny as its potentially captivating delve into Egyptian history/mythology is tainted by repeatedly clunky dialogue and countless lacklustre jump-scares.
Plot Summary: When a team of U.S. archaeologists unearth an ancient pyramid buried beneath the desert just outside Cario, they yearn to explore the interior of the structure despite extensive pushback from locals. Ignoring the residents’ objections, the group decide to head into the depths of the pyramid, soon becoming hopelessly lost in its endless passageways, eventually coming to realise that they aren’t just trapped, they are being hunted…
Directed by Grégory Levasseur, a frequent collaborator of producer Alexandre Aja. The Pyramid was Levasseur’s first and only directorial credit to date, and upon a first watch, it quickly becomes apparent as to why that is as The Pyramid is a horror ripe with imperfections that nearly any critic or casual audience member could spot. However, many of these issues are a result of Levasseur continuously brawling with the constraints of the found-footage subgenre, which might explain why the film makes so many baffling choices when it comes to its cinematography. Moreover, many of the scares throughout are telegraphed well in advance, so if you watch plenty of horror flicks, you’ve likely already seen everything the film has to offer.
When it comes to the story, the first act rushes through a string of contrivances, such as threats of air poisoning following the opening of the pyramid’s entrance, a military-ordered evacuation, and a NASA rover being mysteriously destroyed inside the pyramid, all of which were plainly written into the screenplay in order to get the central group of characters into the foreboding burial site as swiftly as possible. Yet, through this entire act, the screenplay rarely tries to develop any of the characters beyond a few traits, whether that be Dr. Nora Holden; a prodigious prehistorian and graduate of the Christmas Jones Academy of Scientist Couture, portrayed by Ashley Hinshaw, or the dim-witted British cameraman, Fitzie, portrayed by James Buckley. Every one of the characters are remarkably unoriginal and uninteresting. And even though certain supporting cast members, such as Denis O’Hare and Christa Nicola, deliver respectable performances, they ultimately add up to very little as most of the dialogue consists of excessive exposition or generic lines like “This Is the Find of a Century.”
As mentioned previously, The Pyramid bizarrely utilises both a first-person and a third-person perspective. So, despite many of the characters wearing or carrying cameras to present the film as found-footage, the cinematography by Laurent Tangy frequently reverts to well-presented shots that none of the characters could have realistically obtained. This illogical decision pretty much ensures that the audience will be taken out of the spine-chilling, claustrophobic scenarios the screenplay is trying to craft, in addition to breaking the illusion that what the audience is watching is recovered footage. That being said, The Pyramid does harbour some impressive set design, as from the moment the group enter the pyramid, they are ensnared in narrow chambers and passageways, each retaining sand-littered bases and detailed Egyptian wall hieroglyphics.
Similar to the cinematography, the original score by Nima Fakhrara is rather inconsistent. Although the score clearly takes admirable influences from Egyptian culture and includes a commendable array of effective tracks. In actuality, The Pyramid shouldn’t have an original score, given the film is supposedly a found-footage flick. The end credits sequence is also accompanied by the rock song; 5173 by Kevin Hastings, which only adds to the utter strangeness of the soundtrack.
Perhaps The Pyramid‘s greatest flaw, however, is that even those with a strong interest in Egyptian history/mythology are unlikely to enjoy the story, as many of its ideas are barely explored and there are numerous instances where the Egyptian mythology that the story does integrate is incorrect. For example, near the end of the runtime (spoilers ahead in this section for those who wish to go in blind), the evil entity behind the pyramid’s existence is revealed to be Anubis, an ancient Egyptian deity. In the film, Anubis is composed of terrible CGI and presented as a ferocious beast. Yet, in Egyptian mythology, Anubis was quite benevolent towards humans, treating them with respect as they embarked on their voyage into the afterlife. Hence, his characterisation in The Pyramid is a far cry from how Ancient Egyptians actually viewed him.
In summary, very little of The Pyramid is especially engaging or particularly frightening as many of the characters are portrayed as cardboard cutouts, simply meandering their way through an exceedingly tiresome plot. So, aside from some convincing set design and supporting performances, I feel The Pyramid is undoubtedly a horror worth skipping. Considering that the production company behind the project, 20th Century Fox, decided not to release The Pyramid on physical formats in many territories due to its dismal box office performance, it seems that most have already forgotten this found-footage catastrophe. Rating: low 3/10.