Dumped into theaters with little fanfare, "The Pyramid" didn't screen in advance for critics -- not a good sign, especially for a film whose producers include French horror-meister Alexandre Aja (director of "Piranha 3D" and the "The Hills Have Eyes" remake).
What little you've seen in TV spots makes "The Pyramid" nearly indistinguishable from the summer flick "As Above, So Below": Antediluvian evil is unleashed by unsuspecting explorers deep underground.
Father and daughter archaeologists Miles and Nora Holden (Denis O'Hare and Ashley Hinshaw) discover and excavate a unique triangular-based pyramid in the Egyptian desert that predates the prevalent square-based pyramids aboveground. But with the unrest in post-coup Egypt, Miles and Nora have only 24 hours left before the expedition must shut down.
They dispatch an expensive rover on loan from NASA inside the archaic structure. When the rover inexplicably breaks down, they enter the pyramid to retrieve it, with a documentary film crew conveniently in tow. Along the way they must survive ancient booby traps like those in the Indiana Jones flicks, as well as slithering mythical creatures a la the 2005 critical darling "The Descent."
Screenwriters Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon may have had in mind the de rigueur found-footage trope when introducing their documentary filmmakers Sunni (Christa Nicola) and Fitzie (James Buckley). But at least Gregory Levasseur, making his directorial debut, opts to buck the tiresome trend.
Because the film conjures "The Descent," it could have been quite potent by simply following that movie's lead. Both movies have their characters crawl through tight spaces and fumble in the dark. But, like so many filmmakers before him, Levasseur doesn't seem to grasp that in the horror genre, less can be more.
The grotesque detail of the monsters makes the film seem low-rent. Leaving the creatures to our imagination could have made them a lot more horrifying.
The obnoxious sound design and score divest the film of much of its suspense, and perhaps more important characters have no survival instincts. The audience never has a chance to build some false hope that someone might make it out alive.
MPAA rating: R for horror violence and bloody images
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes