Film: Urban Explorers
UK Release date: Out now
Director: Andy Fetscher
Starring: Nathanlie Kelley, Nick Eversman, Klaus Stigmeier, Max Riemelt
Running time: 90 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Picture the scene: A young girl, terrified and confused, boards a busy subway train in an attempt to escape the crazed madman chasing her. He too gets on the train and continues to taunt her in front of the other passengers. By pretending to be a ticket collector, he attempts to drag her from the train. The girl - by now battered and bruised - screams out to one of the other passengers, “He’s a killer, a f*cking lunatic. Don’t you understand?” As the bloody psychopath pulls her from the train, the passenger - without an ounce of humour - replies, “Sorry, but you need a ticket.” The moral of this story, I hear you ask? Don’t take the train next time you’re in Germany. Gritty horror Urban Explorers is available in the UK for the first time this month.
Beneath Berlin extends a system of over 25000 tunnels. Two thirds have been permanently sealed, some of which haven’t been entered for more than 60 years. Sounds like a great excuse for a horror movie to me, and Andy Fetscher sure knows a thing or two about covering all bases. There are six characters in total. Two hail from Germany, one from Venezuela, one from America, one from Korea and the last one from France. Anxious to explore this mysterious hidden world, the group of urban explorers hire a local guide, Kris, who leads them into a maze of escape tunnels and impending doom. When their guide has a bad fall, the group is forced to split up, with only the young American and his girlfriend staying behind. When a former East German border guard appears out of nowhere, things take a turn for the worst. With regard to entertainment though, Urban Explorers finds in him a pot of gold.
The premise is slight, that much we know, and the opening act slithers along at a snails pace as the group lose their way into the darkness. They’re looking for a special bunker known as the ‘Fahrerbunker’, rumoured to be Hitler’s subterranean garage, but in truth this plot thread acts as filler. The tunnels and hideaways provide the films only depth, and there’s precious little characterisation to speak of. The setting is eerie enough, and the moody score aims to ramp up the tension at every turn, but the characters are so one note you’ll probably find yourself rooting for the villain. The filmmakers even throw in a lesbian subplot that goes nowhere fast, in fact two of the main characters are forgotten as quickly as they are introduced. Just as I too started to lose my way in the darkness, our friendly neighbourhood psychopath turned up and Urban Explorers found a new lease of life. Maybe that should read death - graphically violent, spine tingling death.
Klaus Stiglmeier’s performance is scarier and more sinister than any sound design could ever hope to be, bringing with him genuine menace and terror. Great horror movies come with great bad guys, and Urban Explorers is blessed with one of the most captivating, crack-brained crazies in recent memory. Of the five good guys, only Lucia (Nathalie Kelley) stands out, but that’s probably because she gets to do the lion’s share of the screaming. She does well to make an impact though, such is the nature of her role, but I doubt she’ll be joining the likes of Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott in the Scream Queen Hall Of Fame.
The rest of the movie is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the horror genre of late, relentless chase sequences followed by spectacularly gory torture porn and a sombre ending. One scene in particular stands out, but gore hounds will be happy to hear that Fetscher doesn’t hold back on the red stuff. To be fair to the German-Romanian director, he does handle the hard stuff well, and he’s more than capable of crafting a series of set pieces that go for the jugular. It’s hardly groundbreaking, and over familiarity does take the shine off it a little, but there’s enough here to warrant an uncomfortable night in. In fact there’s a little fun to be had in the conformity of it all - lets just say you know a characters days are numbered when he whispers the words “I love you”. Fetscher could be worth keeping an eye on though, perhaps next time somebody will offer him a script that matches his technical ability.
With a downbeat ending, memorable villain, creepy location and solid direction, Urban Explorers just about succeeds in its quest for thrills and spills. The opening act drags, lead characters are one-dimensional and a little more invention would’ve been nice, but for sixty minutes Andy Fetscher’s second feature makes a fist of it. Largely forgettable but worthwhile viewing all the same, you’ll be pleased to learn the shirt is optional.