Urban Explorers DVD Review
Directed by Andy Fetscher
Written by Martin Thau
2011, Region 2 (PAL), 88 minutes, Rated 18
DVD released on 5th March 2012
Nathalie Kelley as Lucia
Nick Eversman as Denis
Klaus Stiglmeier as Armin
Max Reimelt as Kris
Brenda Koo as Juna
Katherine de Lean as Marie
Of all the stupid things you could do with your holidays, going around raiding Nazi bunkers is perhaps the stupidest. Denis's idea of a romantic getaway with girlfriend Lucia consists of exploring Berlin's network of long-buried catacombs. There's not so much light at the end of the tunnel, but rather a sadistic ex-soldier intent on slicing the kids to pieces.
The plot is a cross between The Descent and Wolf Creek. In fact, the similarities to Greg Mclean's minor torture classic are highly distracting. During the second half of the film, it seems to follow Wolf Creek's template beat for beat. The villain of the piece – a hobo named Armin – would get on with Aussie Mick Taylor like a house on fire. They share a similar sense of humour and hobbies, and Armin's gruesome party trick certainly rivals Mick's head on a stick. Klaus Stiglmeier's Teutonic torturer is a great villain. His face is the most terrifying thing about the film – and that's before he's even started cutting bits off anyone. That face is a great gift to horror; far better than any CGI or makeup effect. This does make the already dim kids seem all the stupider - it's hard to believe that anyone would trust a man so obviously evil as Armin for long enough to be led into his lair. I'd much rather take my chances alone than go anywhere with a mush like that.
The villain is the best reason to watch Urban Explorers, although the setting certainly helps too. The grim, dirty catacombs are claustrophobic and atmospheric, steadily building the tension in anticipation of Armin's (well signposted) appearance. Touches such as the Nazi insignia on the walls and an abandoned piano make the tunnels feel like a character in their own right. Alas, any attempt at hiding the overriding threat is rendered redundant when one considers how much of the film's promotional material is made up of Armin looking bug eyed and scary. Just look at that face – there's no way he could ever be anything but a psychopathic bastard.
The kids don't fare quite so well. They're an unbelievably brainless lot; traipsing through incredibly dangerous tunnels and following any sinister figure who might offer them a hand. Nick Eversman's Denis is too stupid to ever sympathise with, while his girlfriend is one of the worst criers I've ever seen in a film. It's little wonder Armin is always on their heels – constantly making that racket - it's a surprise that she doesn't have serial killers after her from miles around.
Dodgy characterisation and predictability aside, Urban Explorers is a blast. It's properly tense at times, thrilling, gory and grim. The pace is quick enough that it leaves little time for viewers to ponder the film's stupidity. Once Stiglmeier starts chewing the scenery (with his enormous teeth) neither he nor the film settle down until the credits start rolling.
Thinking of a Gothic getaway in Germany? On the basis of this gruesome piece, you'd be best off conducting any urban exploring well and truly above ground.
Video and Audio:
Despite it being set in a series of underground rooms, the film looks a treat. The gloom and shadows make Berlin's underbelly seem dark and scary without obscuring any of the good stuff. There's some great German rock on the soundtrack, really setting the scene.