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First, a disclaimer: URBAN EXPLORER played Screamfest this week,
and there was an error. The version that screened had no subtitles, with the
theater even stopping the film for five minutes to attempt to fix the problem, to
no avail. That said, the large majority of the movie was in English, body
language and inflection came across clear and I’m not sure if the subtitles
would have actually improved the movie any.
Directed by Andy Fetscher, URBAN EXPLORER seems like such a
cool premise. I even stood in the lobby speaking with peers about the
excitingly creative concept: A group of international travelers visiting Berlin
hire a German native to give them a tour of the endless tunnels and networks
under the city. Historically, the city bears a huge underground system constructed
by the Nazis and again during the Cold War. The group sets off exploring, and
amidst SS bunkers and passageways they discover something far more terrifying
than imagined. Brilliant, right?
Steeped in a real-life historical background, it takes the
viewer to a place they have never seen before, exposes them to Nazi folklore
and ghost stories relatively unknown here in the States, and allows for some
creative technique in the dark and shadowy underbelly of the city. This was
what I had hoped for. The result was not quite so positive.
URBAN EXPLORER has a great start. Sure, the characters are a
little annoying and trite—almost like a Benetton ad with a rainbow of
international hip stereotypes—but as soon as the group enters the tunnels, it got
fascinating, with their German guide full of knowledge of aforementioned
fascinating history and folklore. This first act serves to possibly set up half
a dozen horror plots that could logically follow, including everything from Nazi
medical experiments to ghosts to aliens to giant eels living in the underground
waterways, all carefully woven in and creating a nice chilling mood. The visuals
are gorgeous, a low key, high contrast mix of sharply divided shadows and
flashlight beams highlighting the cramped, damp stone passages.
As is often the case, once URBAN EXPLORER’s actual terror is
revealed, the whole movie falls down face-first, on the slimy bedrock, with the
threat turning out to be absolutely nothing new. Actually, if you had polled
the audience in the lobby FAMILY FEUD style as to what the most predictable
thing that could be going on in the tunnels, this would be the number one
answer. Survey says it’s been done before, a lot.
What’s more, is that the exhilarating camera-work comes to a
halt in the second half, in lieu of close-ups on some rather boring carnage. As
far as thrills, there were minor scares throughout, but whereas the remarkable
moments in the first portion were built out of atmosphere and creativity, those
in the second half just seemed lazy by comparison. Ultimately, URBAN EXPLORER was hard to swallow, with a very
decent beginning that transforms into an overdone hot mess.
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