Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #188
Also known as: Urban Explorer
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 20 October 2011 (Germany)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: Germany
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Andy Fetscher
Producer: Oliver Thau
Screenplay: Martin Thau
Special Effects: Jens Döldissen
Visual Effects: Janosch Benz
Cinematography: Andy Fetscher
Score: Robert Henke, Steven Schwalbe
Editing: Andy Fetscher
Studios: Papermoon Films, Rialto Film
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment, Anchor Bay Entertainment (UK)
Stars: Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman, Klaus Stiglmeier, Max Riemelt, Catherine de Léan, Brenda Koo, Adolfo Assor, Johannes Klaußner, Andreas Wisniewski
Suggested Audio Candy:
Johann Gottfried Piefke Der Königgrätzer Marsch
Nothing pleases Keeper more than being pleasantly surprised. I try to not to become jaded and always try and expect the unexpected but, after thirty-five years of watching horror films, it becomes instinctive when you hear about a film. Ordinarily you know how to separate the wheat from the chaff and you know a pleasing time-waster when it comes along. I’m pleased to report that German director Andy Fetscher’s The Depraved, originally titled Urban Explorer, is a most welcome surprise and a bit of a diamond in the rough to boot. Perfect it most definitely isn’t, nihilistic and mean-spirited it is in abundance.
It highlights a new trend sweeping across Berlin. Urban exploring is a not entirely legal pursuit which folk pay princely sums to partake in and thrill-seekers Lucia, Denis, Marie and Juna all take it upon themselves to take a suchlike expedition into the catacombs sprawled out beneath a jostling neon-drenched nightclub in the heart of the city. Along with tour-guide Kris they burrow deep into the network of tunnels and crawlspaces, while receiving a free history lecture and discovering the abandoned Nazi bunker’s dark secret. Things inevitably take a turn for the worse the deeper they traverse and they are left fighting for survival, as is synonymous with the brand.
The first thing that strikes you when watching Fetscher’s film is that it looks great. The subterranean locale is moodily lit with red edge split filters used sporadically to create foreboding, is suitably dank and grimy, and admirably claustrophobic. The snappy editing, also Fetscher helps the movie zip along nicely even though he has no intention of playing his hand too soon. The group must first battle their surroundings a la The Descent before finding out the bunker’s dreadful secret and the first act sets up pleasingly. The performances from all five explorers have weight, although each are a little thin on characterization. Nevertheless, they warrant our investment and we are left curious as to where events are going to lead us.
Nazi insignia on the walls, oppressive paintings and abandoned pianos help to create menace and Intel that Hitler and his Nazi Army fashioned these catacombs during World War II gets the salivary glands in full flow. Alas, there are no neo-Nazis here and that is maybe the biggest disappointment. Such a patient build-up suggests something darker than what we are presented with come the reveal although, make no mistake, it’s still no picnic. Klaus Stiglmeier who plays unhinged border guard Armin looks like the illegitimate lovechild of Ron Perlman and Lee Marvin. He has a face destined for horror and takes responsibility for putting the youngsters to the sword. His turn is frighteningly realized and he commands the screen with his undomesticated glare and gnarling gnashers.
Given the languid pace and delicate set-up, one could be forgiven for being a little disappointed by the lack of a more otherworldly threat and, at a generous 90 minutes, The Depraved runs the risk of running itself into a corner. However, this is where Fetscher gets it right on the money. You see, it twists and turns like the grim passageways it uses to pen you in and he shows restraint from opting for cheap shots and jolts, in favor of continuing to crank up the tension. One or two admirable examples come across as thoughtful and show that he’s in complete control. Two often, as in Tomm Coker and David Elliot’s Catacombs, there’s a feeling that the whole thing is about to become preposterous and the hard work will have been for nothing but The Depraved is nimble enough to sidestep any banana skins in this department.
The final act sees another shift and again it is most welcome. We are finally made privy to what Armin gets up to when not cooking up home-made stew and it is just as depraved as the title suggests. It is dark, uncompromisingly brutal and begins to hint at just how fucked these urban explorers actually are. Think Wolf Creek or those inbred subway dwellers from Creep and you’ll be on the right track as to the kind of violence to expect; slow and torturous, never intended to be at all comfortable for those viewing or the hapless quarry. By the end we may not have shared an epiphany but we have spent 90 minutes on a knife-edge and that signals a job well done in Keeper’s books. It’s no classic but, if insular survival flicks are your bag, it certainly sits in the upper Reich.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: You may have to wait for the human sewage to begin glugging, but when it does, The Depraved lives very much up to its name. There is some nasty injury detail and the term ‘taking off one’s shirt’ is given a magnificent new meaning in one truly unexpected and downright rapacious scene which we don’t see coming. Grue aside, Armin’s torment of Lucia (who looks uncannily similar to Shannyn Sossamon from the aforementioned Catacombs I might add) with a plastic bag is enough to make your lungs burst in your chest.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014