Review 72: The Pyramid (1/5)

The Pyramid

Directed by Gregory Levasseur

Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Christa-Marie Nicola, Amir K

Released on December 5, 2014

Running time: 1h 29m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

In 2013, the citizens of Egypt revolted against the government led by the relatively new President Mohamed Morsi after a constitutional declaration that would give Morsi unlimited power. I personally thought that Morsi was just as bad as, if not worse than Hosni Mubarak. Well, I had already detested the Muslim Brotherhood for years, and was not happy to see them take charge of Egypt. So, obviously, I was relieved when Morsi was ousted.

While The Pyramid is set during this time, the revolts by the Egyptian populace are simply mentioned but once. Scratch that – the revolts were shown, but they were never explained or given context. In fact, they are pretty much ignored, as there are much more important things happening – a new Egyptian pyramid has been discovered. It has been buried below the sand for the past several thousand years. This pyramid is a triangular pyramid rather than a square pyramid, and it is over six hundred feet tall – over one hundred and forty-five feet taller than Khufu’s Great Pyramid.

This pyramid has been discovered by an archaeological team led by Dr. Miles Holden (O’Hare), his daughter, Dr. Nora Holden (Hinshaw). I buy Nora being an archaeologist about as much as I buy Denise Richards being a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough, Demi Moore being a soldier in G.I. Jane, or Tara Reid being an anthropologist in Alone in the Dark. Both Drs. Holden are being interviewed by award-winning documentarian Sunni Marsh (Nicola) and her cameraman, Terry “Fitzy” Fitsimmons (Buckley). While Dr. Holden mentions that he believes that this pyramid may be the lost pyramid of Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaten, Nora believes that this pyramid’s purpose was entirely different. Dr. Holden’s belief that this is Akhenaten’s pyramid is only mentioned once by himself and once by Nora. It is forgotten pretty quickly, and it is replaced by Nora’s belief that this pyramid holds potentially revolutionary secrets.

Before I continue, here’s a bit of history. Since the movie’s titular pyramid was mentioned to be the final resting place of Akhenaten, I thought I’d give some background. Amenhotep IV got the idea to switch Egypt from its typical polytheistic religion that worshiped gods such as Ra, Amun, Horus, Osiris, Anubis, and various others, to a monotheistic religion that believed solely in a new sun god named Aten. Akhenaten had a son, who he named Tutankhaten to honor Aten. After his death, the monotheistic practices were abolished, and the polytheistic religion we all learn about was reinstated. Tutankhaten was renamed Tutankhamun to honor the god Amun-Ra (Amun and Ra were combined into one god after the resurgence of Egypt after the Hyksos invasion).

Anyway, satellite imagery reveals a tunnel that leads to the apex of a pyramid. The hired excavation team breaches the tunnel, which leaks a toxic, acidic green gas that kills a worker, and leads to a pointless jumpscare. Uh…I’m pretty sure air stuck underground will just turn into carbon dioxide, rather than turn green and become acidic. Later that day, the team is ordered to leave because of the Egyptian revolts spreading to Giza. The Drs. Holden get into an argument about whether or not they should leave, because they have no idea when they will be able to return. After some frank exchanges of ideas, the group, comprised of Dr. Holden, Nora, Sunni, Fitzy, and Nora’s friend Michael Zahir (K) decide to send in WALL-E – I mean, Shorty – no, screw it, I’ll call it WALL-E. I didn’t like WALL-E, so I can totally use it to mock The Pyramid. The group sends WALL-E into the tunnel, using the two cameras on its head to view the inside and read the hieroglyphs on the walls. Thankfully, we have both Drs. Holden here to translate the glyphs for us. And of course they scream despair, doom, death, and damnation. Two jumpscares happen as a creature slinks past WALL-E’s cameras and a few creatures attack WALL-E, causing it to go offline. Quick – send in EVE to fetch him! It turns out that WALL-E was a several-million-dollar robot, and on loan from NASA, so the group decides to go in to fetch WALL-E. An Egyptian soldier named Shadid shows up and orders them to leave, but Zahir convinces Shadid to back off.

The group goes in to fetch WALL-E and quickly become lost after coming to a fork in the passage and climbing up and back down a hole. Uh, you could just look at the sand-and-dust-covered floor and find the passage that has footprints in it. The group picks the wrong passage and arrives at a room with, to their horror, a floor that’s about to collapse. Instead of staying next to the walls where the floor is strongest, the group decides to cut across the middle. Sure enough, the floor collapses. Conveniently, the camera cuts out when they fall, and comes back on well after they’ve hit the ground. After they get up and try to get moving, a piece of the floor above falls and crushes Zahir’s leg, giving us another cheap jumpscare. Strangely, after Zahir is given water, his moans of pain stop.

Sunni sees a hole in the ceiling that she can climb up, thinking that she can get back to where they were and find a way out. She climbs up the shaft, coming to a small hole just small enough for a person to not be able to fit. She shines her flashlight down the hole, showing a strange, hairless creature. In another terrible jumpscare, the creature rushes at her and scratches her face. Sunni falls down the thirty-foot shaft and is somehow uninjured, save for her scratch. Bullhonky. Promising to come back for Zahir, the group exits the chamber through a passage they suddenly find. While proceeding through it, they hear Zahir scream. The Drs. Holden run back to the room only to find Zahir gone and an unrealistically large trail of blood leading up a wall. And for some reason, when the Drs. Holden rejoin Sunni and Fitzy, Dr. Holden says that Zahir tried to move the rock and that it fell over and crushed him. Why would he say that? It’s an obvious lie, as both Fitzy and Sunni call him out. And Nora seems to be in on this lie. Why?

The group comes to a tunnel that they start to crawl through. But while they do so, they hear the same creature that attacked Sunni. This time, these creatures have appeared in large numbers. But the group hears Shadid calling for them. How did he find his way in here? In a pointless chase sequence, the group crawls away from the creatures, and are pulled out of the other end of the tunnel by Shadid. The creatures burst through the other end of the tunnel, but don’t attack. The creatures are revealed to be hairless, feral cats that have survived for thousands of years through cannibalism. I would presume that these are Sphynx cats. Pity – Sphynx cats are cute, even though they’re hairless. As Shadid is standing by the tunnel, two clawed hands burst out in another jumpscare and grab Shadid. Shadid is snapped in half as he is dragged into the tunnel and killed.

The group comes to a wall that depicts a carving of the Egyptian Final Judgement. I will explain what that is later. Dr. Holden explains to Fitzy and Sunni that in this Judgement, the Egyptian person’s heart would be weighed by Anubis against Ma’at, the goddess of truth. I balked at this, and I personally told the screen that that was wrong, and that an Egyptologist should know better. I then personally explained the Egyptian Final Judgement to the screen. Again, I will explain later, because there is a forthcoming scene that also gets the Judgement wrong.

The group comes to another passage, this one having lion heads carved into the wall just below the ceiling. Dr. Holden sees three rocks held up by ropes and touches one. In another jumpscare, it falls to the floor with a bang, and sand starts leaking out of the mouths of the lion head carvings. Dr. Holden stands there for almost an entire minute wondering what’s happening, during which I was yelling at the screen “It’s an effing sand trap! Don’t just stand there like a moron! Effing run!” The group finally takes off running. They barely make it through, but the passage ends in a short platform, and Sunni is knocked off. She falls into a pit of spikes, making squishing sounds that I could find on freesound.org. The cat creatures attack Sunni, tearing small chunks of flesh away with some pretty poor gore effects that are at least the right color. Take that, The Hills Run Red. And yet, Sunni is screaming her head off. If she was impaled in that manner, not unlike Trinity in The Matrix Revolutions, she would be in shock and choking on her own blood. By the way, in this scene, I heard vocal percussion replace ethnic percussion in the soundtrack. That’s freaking cheap. The rest of the group climb into the spike pit, scare off the cats, and try to lift Sunni off of the spikes impaling her. The right thing to do here, medically, is to just break off the spikes rather than remove them, because that would make her bleed out. Too bad Dr. Holden doesn’t remember that until Sunni is nearly off the spikes. They set her back on them, but this just causes further damage, and Sunni goes into convulsions just before she dies. Well, that death could have been avoided if not for the idiocy of our characters.

Somehow, the group gets back to the room with the Judgement on the wall. Dr. Holden goes over to a statue on the other side of the room and touches it in the right place, causing the wall to rotate, leading to another passage, lined with carvings of screaming faces. After wandering for a few minutes, the group reaches a burial chamber. Dr. Holden says that they’ve reached the bottom of the pyramid. Unless they somehow fell six hundred feet earlier, I’m going to call BS. The group comes across the desiccated corpse of a Freemason who was killed by an Alien chestburster. And that means a Xenomorph is running around the burial chamber. This is a bug hunt! Game over, man! Game over! And the Xenomorph actually shows up as a clawed hand bursts through Dr. Holden’s chest, doing a Kali Ma from behind. Except this is not the Xenomorph you are used to. I will reveal what it looks like later. Nora and Fitzy run away and split up, but Fitzy winds up in another part of the burial chamber. He hides behind a pillar when he sees the Xenomorph.  Fitzy also sees Dr. Holden, still alive, tied against another pillar with the Xenomorph next to him. The Xenomorph takes Dr. Holden’s heart and sticks it on a scale. Apparently Dr. Holden is unworthy to pass on to the afterlife, because his heart is heavy with sin, and fails the Judgement. Insert the loser horns from The Price is Right. The Xenomorph eats the heart, and Dr. Holden dies. Fitzy runs away, finds Nora, and shows her what happened on his camera. Nora says that this isn’t a Xenomorph – it’s the Egyptian god Anubis. That explains why the Xenomorph is humanoid, but has the head of a jackal and clawed hands. The altar in the burial chamber, Nora explains, shows that Anubis, son of Osiris, was merciless in his desperation to reunite with his father, and that this pyramid was created to imprison him.

Unfortunately, these are some grievous inaccuracies with Egyptian mythology. First off, Anubis was not the son of Osiris – he was the son of Set. Second, Anubis was not evil. He was simply the god of funerals who officiated the Final Judgement. If any deity in Egyptian mythology was evil, it was either Set, the brother and murderer of Osiris, or Apophis, the serpentine embodiment of chaos and disorder, and mortal enemy of Amun-Ra. Third, Anubis never entered the corporeal plane. He was always represented in Egyptian mummification procedures by a priest wearing headwear designed like the likeness of Anubis himself. Fourth, Anubis did not eat the heart during the Final Judgement.

It is now that I shall go into detail about the Egyptian Final Judgement, depicted in Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead. When the soul of an Egyptian left the body, it would enter into the underworld, or the Duat, enter the Hall of Two Truths, and face Anubis. The Egyptian swore that he had not committed any sin from a list of forty-two grievous sins. While the goddess Ma’at would be present and the god Thoth would be off to the side, transcribing the events, Anubis would take the person’s heart and weigh it against Ma’at’s special ostrich feather, which is her hieroglyphic symbol. If the Egyptian led a righteous life, the heart would be the same weight as the feather, and the Egyptian’s soul would become “maa-kheru” and be allowed to proceed into the afterlife. If the Egyptian did not lead a righteous life, the heart would be heavy with sin, and would be heavier than the feather. Anubis would give the heart to Ammit, a horrible demon with the butt and back legs of a hippo, the torso, front legs, and mane of a lion, and the head of a crocodile. Ammit would eat the heart, the Egyptian’s soul would be subjected to a second death, and the soul would cease to exist. This is one of few sections of the Book of the Dead with any explicit moral content.

I really hope that both Drs. Holden paid attention in Egyptian Mythology class, because these issues would have made them fail their finals.

Anyway, through some unintelligible BS, Nora and Fitzy find an air shaft and start climbing out, but the Xenomorph – sorry, Anubis – sees them and begins climbing up after them. Fitzy is dragged back down to the burial chamber. Nora is accosted by Anubis, but she fends him off with a flare, sending him tumbling to the bottom. She climbs up to the top of the shaft, but Anubis shows up in a crappy jumpscare and drags her back down to the bottom. She is tied to…something. Anubis, in a terrible jumpscare, kills Fitzy by crushing his head, and prepares to remove Nora’s heart. And it is in this scene that we see the poorly CGI’d head of Anubis in all its facepalmingly atrocious glory. It is truly a shining example of terrible CGI. It’s clearly a guy wearing a mask with sensors on it so CGI can be added in post. In fact, you won’t even need to go see the movie to see the poor CGI for yourself. Here it is.

Anubis, of course, does the long, slow, drawn out movement toward removing Nora’s heart. But Nora breaks her bonds with an ax she found earlier that we’ve forgotten about and fends off Anubis. She starts running back to the air shaft, but she stops when she sees the cat creatures. They surround her and Anubis, but for some reason, the cats, who I’m just now noticing are also poorly CGId, attack Anubis. Why? This distraction allows Nora to escape and almost make it outside, but she passes out before she can. She wakes up to see an obviously American child playing with her camera. And then the movie ends on a final jumpscare as Anubis bursts out of the darkness and lunges at the camera. Just like the ending of the abominable The Forest.

I completely forgot to mention the subplot about the toxic air inside the pyramid infecting them and causing some sort of transmutation to each of the characters. Actually, I probably shouldn’t, as it has about as much impact on the plot as a pebble thrown into a river. You’ll remember the subplot then, but you’ll forget it almost immediately.

I didn’t know until afterward that The Pyramid was supposed to be found-footage. What? When in the movie was there ever found footage? Okay, it showed up in a few moments, but it rarely showed its face! Why did The Pyramid market itself as found-footage? And if this movie is found-footage, why is there a subpar soundtrack? Hey, at least the lack of found-footage footage made sure that we never had to deal with a vomitorium of shaky-cam like The Blair Witch Project.

The plot is obviously generic and cliché, with the only originality being its setting. It’s boring. The exposition makes little sense. The Egyptian riots are shown, but we’re never told what they are or given any context. It is such a slow, uninteresting drag. You know what? I just realized how lethargic our plot actually is. It straight up slows to a crawl in every scene until the end of each scene when a character finds something, be it a passage, a tunnel, a hidden room, etc., and pushes the plot forward a few inches. This happens. And then this happens. And then this happens. The plot lacked a driving force. It’s like a little boy playing with a toy car. He places it on the ground and gives it a gentle push. The toy car travels a few feet, slows, and stops. The boy runs up to it and gives it another gentle push. Rinse and repeat until the movie is over. Or how about this idea: a guy sits on the toilet and painfully, strenuously, over a period of several minutes, poops out an arm-sized log. And when he tries to flush it down the toilet, it folds in half and clogs the toilet. And then another guy comes along, sees the log, and comments that it folded in half “like the Titanic.” And then he comes up with the silly nickname of “Sh!tanic”. This incident actually happened at band camp the summer after my freshman year of high school. But it can be likened to the plot of The Pyramid. It’s disgusting to look at, will bring up a laugh whenever it’s talked about, and will be forgotten quickly.

The characters were underdeveloped to the point of ridicule. These characters even lacked the ability to think things through. And the manner of their deaths are just too everyday and unimaginative to be gruesome. We never felt any tension regarding who will live or die, and we never had any reason to care. We were never given any false hope that Nora might make it out alive. Nora was just a weak, scared, blonde version of Lara Croft. If Sunni was an award-winning documentarian covering Egyptian mythology, why did she not know her stuff? Why did she not contribute?

The setting was at least okay. The acting was at least okay.

Do you have any idea how scary Anubis could have been had he been kept in the shadows? Or, maybe, all we saw of him was just a hand? Or, maybe, we only saw him for a split second? That could have worked. It worked in Signs. It worked in The Exorcist 1 & 3. Everybody remembers that split-second shot of the alien in Signs. It had people watching it at home going, “Holy crap! Holy crap! What was that? What was that? Rewind the movie so we can get a good look at that!” Everybody remembers that split-second flash of that demonic white face from The Exorcist. Everybody remembers the nurse station jumpscare in Exorcist 3. Everybody remembers the glowing red eyes from The Amityville Horror. Everybody remembers the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene from Jaws. Everybody remembers the shower scene from Psycho. Everybody remembers the scene from Insidious where we see the Lipstick-Face demon over Josh’s shoulder for a split second. Everybody remembers the first sighting of the crawlers from The Descent. But The Pyramid just wasn’t scary. Sure, there were several cheapo jumpscares, but that doesn’t count. The atmosphere was just there; it wasn’t creepy, and it didn’t get under my skin. If I want to watch a scary movie involving Egyptian mythology, I’ll just go watch the original The Mummy with Boris Karloff.

Look. If you’re going to make a found footage horror movie in this setting, then make it like Grave Encounters. Make the plot about getting lost, the labyrinthine passageways turning around on themselves, and ultimately have paranoia, desperation, and insanity set in. Only give us a taste of supernatural stuff. Have the movie end with the audience wondering whether or not it was supernatural forces or just insanity.

Strangely, though the previous year had brought us the actually decent As Above, So Below, The Pyramid follows every single plot point of As Above, So Below save for As Above, So Below’s negligibly successful attempt at psychological horror.

I get the fact that darkness is a place in which evil creatures can hide and lurk and wait to pounce. But there is a huge difference between darkness and pitch blackness. And The Pyramid is rarely in pitch blackness. We get adequate lighting. This already makes it that much better than The Gallows. Take that.

But The Pyramid is bad. Really bad. But not bad enough to be memorable. And that is a particularly grievous sin. It’s like Nightmare on Elm Street 4. And, believe it or not, Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I know I watched those movies, but I only remember a few sentences, a few split-second sequences, and a few frames, and that it was ridiculous to market your movie as having Max von Sydow in it and essentially just giving him an extremely glorified cameo before killing him off before the movie’s even been going for ten minutes. Sorry, I didn’t intend to go into a mini-rant about Star Wars 7 being forgettable, but that’s kind of like what happened with The Pyramid. I watched it once last summer and attempted to review it then, but I remembered so little about the plot that I was unable to do so. I’m doing it now, though.

Come on, Alexandre Aja! You directed the solid remake of The Hills Have Eyes and produced the decent P2!

Why did you produce this crap?

Final Verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.

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