Written by: Andy Fetscher
Directed by: Martin Thau
Starring: Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman and Klaus Stiglmeier
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
In theory, horror movies should be terrible for tourism industries across the globe. In my first three days at Fantastic Fest, I saw horrible things happening to characters in the wilds of Canada, Switzerland, and Scotland. Not that it comes as any consolation to the maimed and the mutilated involved, but at least they were natives to their sinister homelands. Itís probably even worse to be a tourist in these things, as the rash of ďidiot tourists get their vacations wreckedĒ flicks in the wake of Hostel have shown. In that tradition comes Urban Explorer, a film that also solidifies my belief that itís probably a bad idea to poke around in tunnels beneath Berlin, especially when they were once occupied by Nazis.
But thatís what the group here wants to do, so they hire an expert ďurban explorerĒ to guide them through. As he leads them down through the dank, dark tunnel system, he reveals that they were once used as part of Hitlerís occult obsession. Itís sort of like a haunted house tour, except, you know, the Nazis were real and actually performed evil experiments and the like. Believe it or not, the group makes it through their trek without any sort of Nazi ghosts or hideous creatures; in fact, nothing goes wrong until the tour guide takes a spill and breaks his leg. This forces Nick and Lucia to seek out help, but they end up running into a weird guy who seems to be all too helpful, which, of course, means he wants to kill them.
Urban Explorer is fairly conventional stuff, as the script is content to amble through the usual plot beats--the first half is typical, undercooked character development, and youíll be able to peg that Nick and Lucia will be your leads since the film dedicates a whole five or ten minutes to establishing their relationship. The initial exploration of the tunnel system is quite intriguing, if only for the possibilities it presents, what with all the occult hints that get dropped. The biggest problem here is that I wasnít given much of a reason to care about any of these characters. This sucker moves at a breakneck pace; after the brief, courtesy introductions, weíre quickly whisked through a seizure inducing German nightclub before being plopped down into the underground. Once it goes subterranean, characters waltz in and out of the story in slip shod fashion. For example, the group runs into a couple of requisite threatening guys who are probably meant to elicit fear; however, theyíre never heard from again and serve as one of many examples of this script going through the motions.
Going through those motions would have been fine, I think, had Urban Explorer had something supremely interesting eventually hiding up its sleeve. Instead, it just degenerates into standard stalk and slash stuff that ends up being buoyed by a fantastic performance by Klaus Stiglmeier as the villain. Carrying a wide-eyed, toothy grin, he sort of reminded me of a deranged, creepy, Germanic James Coburn (so itís kind of fun to imagine this as a sequel to Cross of Iron). His interactions with the leads are intense and unsettling, if only because you know heís got some malicious intentions hiding behind that inviting visage. We eventually learn that heís a former border patrol officer, and he apparently hasnít accepted that Germany has reunited, so he treats everyone who enters his domain as a threat. Delightfully delusional and insane, heís funny in a perverse way. Nick often asks him questions that are only met with a wry smile; we suspect that this guy has been up to this for a while.
Thatís made fairly obvious when he reveals his lair full of torturous implements; though there are some stalking elements, one can feel the torture influence, right down to the filthy, gritty aesthetic. The grime-soaked, florescent-lit corridors feel like leftover sets from Saw, but the film revels in stark violence instead of genuine suspense and mystery. The gore bits are impressive, particularly a moment that finds one unfortunate victim being skinned alive; even more unfortunate is a nearby container of salt. Everything ends with a climactic chase, wherein the villain is aided by the requisite bad decisions on the part of his targets. There actually is a genuine moment of dramatic irony at one point, as it looks like the last victim standing may escape.
However, all hope is quickly bludgeoned away, as Urban Explorer is quite the nihilistic experience. Itís also one that youíve likely explored many times yourself. While swift and energetically shot, it never quite manages to be as interesting or frantic as it should be. If not for Stiglmeierís inspired, maniacal performance, Iím sure it would have already evaporated from my consciousness more quickly than the Naziís faces melted in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Maybe this one could have used more of that instead of the rote, sloppy slasher junk that it settles for. Rent it!
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