Stairs Movie Review
Written by Joanna K. Neilson
Released by Paton Film
Written and directed by Tom Paton
2019, 100 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest World Premiere on 26th August 2019
Rachel Warren as The Mother
Simon Meacock as Shaun Buxton
Bentley Kalu as Ben Garrett
Toby Osmond as Jack Ford
Piotr Baumann as Pavel
In an unnamed war in an unnamed (possibly Baltic) country, a group of British and American soldiers cross a big moral line during their latest mission and upset something very powerful when they do. Something that's kind enough to wait until they get back to their base in the UK, anyway. When they enter the eponymous stairs to get to the debriefing, a siren wails and darkness falls. Once the deaths start, they know they can't go down again, and somehow, there is only an endless staircase above. The group eventually realise that the last words of a murdered woman might be their last chance for survival. Or - just perhaps - at least a final chance to set things right.
The promisingly Lovecraftian concept (or are they in hell, purgatory, dead already?) isn't a bad idea at all. Inevitably, there are comparisons to be made with Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat) and Groundhog Day, but it never gets near the storytelling panache of either of those movies. We're trapped along with these surly, mostly humourless military types, and an over-fondness for heavy red, blue or even stark grey coloured filters for long periods of the film's runtime doesn't help to endear it at all. To damn it with faint praise, you can really see what the filmmakers were trying to do there, it's just horrible to look at. If anything, the filters cheapen something that's otherwise mostly making the best of its tight budget.
There's plenty of gore if one of the hapless soldiers attempts to engage with the creature, or descend the steps. The hunted tension is constantly raised by an ear-piercing siren that both they and you will soon be heartily sick of hearing. Each respite barely allows the team to rest before the demonic creature lurking within the darkness comes up the stairs after them. The very best moments come when the exhaustion, the wearing out of their feet from all the walking, shredded nerves, and despair make the surviving team members fight viciously among themselves.
Although the cast don't exactly hold your attention, when action kicks in they give a solid performance and get better and more defined as the stakes increase. It just seems to take a very long time to get to that point. And it's never explained how their feet get tired, but no one ever seems to need food or water at any point during their endless hike away from terror. The audience loses a real sense of how much time has passed, and what they've managed or tried to do during that time is harder to imagine. The difference between Edge of Tomorrow and this seems to be how the former's filmmakers manage to show that every possibility of escape has been exhausted. While there's the expected trajectory from acceptance of the insane situation to making the best of the rules within it, their realisation feels too gradual and mostly underexplored, so the possibility within this endless repetition isn't quite as interesting as it could be.
And that siren is bloody annoying.
Stairs is worth a look if you're fond of slightly overlong Twilight Zone episodes that torment a bunch of mostly dull, violent soldiers who are a little slow on the uptake. While solidly made with a creepy concept and some pretty decent gore effects, unfortunately this doesn't quite hit the spot. It's not a fun watch, or that interesting to look at. And unless you're Dario Argento, please leave the red and blue filters behind. This is an interesting concept with plenty of potential, but it could definitely benefit from a do-over of its own.
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