The clandestine world of urban exploration provides the catalyst for Andy Fletscher’s no frills shocker, Urban Explorers, released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on the 5th of March by Anchor Bay Entertainment. The increasingly popular pastime for exploring, photographing and blogging about abandoned, off-limits or out of the way areas of towns and cities has recently been touched by both tragedy and controversy. The death of a 19 year old female after being separated from her friends in the 2,500 mile long Odessa catacombs and the arrest of the ‘Aldwych 4’, apprehended by police on suspicion of being terrorists whilst innocently, but illegally, exploring one of the 18 ‘ghost’ stations on the London Underground, gives Urban Explorers a timely, if unfortunate, resonance.
Fletscher’s movie, which he shot and edited as well as directed, sees four twenty-something thrill-seekers – Denis (Nick Eversman), his girlfriend Lucia (Nathalie Kelley), Marie (Catherine de Lean) and Juna (Brenda Koo) ・hiring Kris (Max Riemelt), a local well versed in urban exploration to take them into the vast network of wartime tunnels and underground fortifications that lie under the streets of Berlin. An added treat is promised as Kris reveals he will take them to the ‘F・hrerbunker’ ・a graffiti laden Nazi war room, largely unseen since the end of World War II. Described by Frightfest as ‘The Descent meets Creep’ and winner of Best Picture at the 2011 Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles, Urban Explorers follows a well trodden path as the group find that the promise of illicit fun is quickly supplanted by life threatening danger as their subterranean jaunt goes badly awry. Reminiscent of the French horror Catacombs and last year’s Aussie mock-doc The Tunnel in terms of setting, Urban Explorers also, thematically, nods its head to Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek by having an apparently benevolent stranger luring people to their deaths, though it falls far short of the nerve shredding heights reached by the Antipodean chiller.
Whilst Fletscher clearly has no problems film-making wise, his directing, photographic and editing skills are all ably demonstrated, Urban Explorers as a whole is undemanding, derivative and fatally undermined by a weak script and ciphers where fully rounded characters ought to be. Having irritatingly one dimensional protagonists delivering half baked lines is an all too common occurrence in many horror movies and Urban Explorers falls prey to that syndrome, however deftly handled the horror sequences may be. It’s impossible to care what happens to any of the explorers and the precious lack of invention in the narrative compounds the issue. On the plus side, Klaus Stiglmeier turns in an enjoyable performance as villain of the piece Armin, an army vet and ‘guardian’ of the tunnels, whose initially helpful attitude towards the group after an accident leaves them in trouble becomes ever more menacing before morphing into outright murderous aggression.
To his credit, Fletscher, with atmospheric lighting, tight editing and multiple close up shots, has made great use of what is basically a ready made movie set, with the claustrophobic, decrepit and labyrinthine environment perfectly suited, to the, sadly generic, scare tactics employed. Urban Explorers is watchable fare at best, with Stiglmeier’s enthusiastically unhinged killer the undoubted highlighted of what is essentially the horror genre equivalent of landfill indie ・competent, familiar and entirely disposable.