German Slasher Urban Explorer starts out strong, really strong. It contains more tense scenes in its first half-hour than some Slashers—especially modern Slashers—include in their entire running time.
Urban Explorer is about, well, urban exploring, or “Urbex” if you’re cool enough. This is the practice of breaking into and exploring boarded up buildings, abandoned towns or areas of a city, and disused tunnel systems. In this film, a group of young people, four tourists and their local guide, come together to explore the underground regions of Berlin.
Now, many reviewers have noted that this initial decision, the decision to explore an unmapped, unlit, entirely abandoned and unregulated, city-sized area is spectacularly stupid. I agree. I do. But if we were to dismiss every movie that begins with the main characters making a stupid decision we’d have to ignore all bank heist movies, all drug movies, and most horror films, including The Descent (spelunking itself is not stupid, but “trying out” an unmapped route is).
I mention The Descent because, initially, Urban Explorer reminded me of that classic of modern horror cinema. No, I’m not saying Urban Explorer is nearly as good as The Descent, but, at first at least, the one does share some qualities with the other. Like The Descent, Urban Explorer takes full advantage of its setting, wringing tension from the surroundings in an expert fashion, and when filmmakers can do this, when filmmakers can create suspense and scares even before the big baddie has made its first appearance, you usually have something great on your screen.
But note those words I’ve used up there? Words like “starts out,” “initially,” and “usually”? That’s because all those good to great things I mentioned about Urban Explorer really only apply to the first few minutes. Once the killer shows, things begin to grow softer and, once the killing starts, the film just comes apart entirely.
I may be wrong to foist my expectations on a film, but here’s what I expected and hoped for: a killer, possibly genetically-enhanced by Nazis, stalking and killing kids in an underground city. I expected Michael Myers meets The Descent. I hoped for a killer dispatching his prey in a cool and efficient manner. Instead, I got some loony-tunes sadist more interested in playing with his prey than killing them. I wanted a killing machine and I got a weird kid pulling wings off a fly. Ho-freakin’-hum.
The kills are mostly dull, with a single exception, and it’s ridiculous and more about pain than death. It’s actually at this point (you’ll know it when you see it) that tension is completely replaced with tedium.
Urban Explorer features a down ending, which is fine—usually. I have no problem with a down ending, but down endings should come, well, at the end. It should be a final shock, one that elicits an “Oh, nooo…” from the audience, with the word “no” coming just as the first of the final credits appear on screen. In Urban Explorer, the down ending comes ten to fifteen minutes before the credits roll. It becomes clear that the film is no longer about seeing people picked off one-by-one, suddenly and creatively, but about watching them suffer through the last moments of their lives. Tension evaporates along with hope; the sense that things could go either way diminishes along with interest. For the final fifteen minutes, both suspense and the movie as a whole seem to deflate until all that’s left is the empty husk of what was and could have been a pretty great Slasher film.
The film is well-shot, it looks great, and the acting is decent, the setting fantastic. As mentioned, it sets things up well, but it is ultimately a huge let-down. Though it never quite degenerates into full-on torture horror, it is more survival-horror than Slasher and relies far too much on pain to create tense moments. As is the case with so many modern makers of horror, the makers of Urban Explorer try to create suspense through suffering, entertainment through entropy, but, in the end, deliver neither.
Watch it until one character gets the skin yanked from his abdomen, then shut it off; you’ll have seen all that’s worth watching.
Length: 88 min