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“Urban Explorers” offers a horrific twist on the apparently popular new pastime of urban exploration (also referred to by the particularly hip as Urbex or UE), in which practitioners make their way through abandoned buildings, factories, train tunnels and the like. Directed by the German-Romanian Andy Fetscher, the film unsurprisingly sees a bunch of young thrill seekers getting more than they bargained for during a trek beneath Berlin, resulting in murder and madness a-plenty. The film, out now on region 2 DVD and Blu Ray via Anchor Bay, has gone down well at a variety of genre festivals, having won Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Make-Up, plus Best Actor for Klaus Stiglmeier, at LA Screamfest in 2011.
The plot kicks off with couple Denis (Nick Eversman, “Hellraiser: Revelations”) and Lucia (Nathalie Kelley), joining Marie (Catherine de Lean) and Juna (Brenda Koo) for a tour of underground Berlin, which will take them through a series of old tunnels reportedly used by the Nazis during World War II, led by local guide Kris (Max Riemelt, “The Wave”). Things quickly take a turn for the worse when the group runs into a pair of unpleasant dog wielding neo Nazis, and after Kris is badly injured in a fall, Denis and Lucia stay behind to look after him while Marie and Juna go off to find help. Before they return, an odd, raggedy man called Armin (veteran actor Klaus Stiglmeier) turns up, claiming to be a former East German border guard and offering them help. Needless to say, there’s more to the eccentric fellow than meets the eye, and the youngsters are soon fighting for their lives.
“Urban Explorers” has been likened by many to recent British horror favourites “The Descent” and “Creep”, and it’s not hard to see why, as the film aims for exactly the same kind of underground horror and dank claustrophobia. Although it never achieves the intensity of these other films or really succeeds as survival horror, Fetscher certainly does a good job, making the very most of the creepy environment and showing a fine eye for foreboding detail. The theme of evil lurking beneath the modern city streets is an engaging one, and the film is atmospheric and well made, with some impressive visuals and location work. Whilst the whole urban explorer conceit may seem a little daft to non-extreme sports fans, the film has an air of gritty realism and shady decay, and this helps lift it above many of its similarly themed recent peers.
Fetscher also delivers when it comes to the scares and gore, and after a measured first half he serves up some genuine shocks and pleasingly bloody scenes. Though there’s nothing too original on show here, the film has a few nastily imaginative and sadistic touches along the way, and receives a real boost from Klaus Stiglmeier, who makes for a fine and entertaining psycho, bolstered by a believable and interesting back story, a real rarity in the genre. This is just as well, since despite a couple of half hearted efforts to generate sympathy, the other four cast members are generally faceless kill-me types, none of whom serve any purpose apart from providing death scenes. Inevitably this does tone down the tension somewhat, as do a few lapses in focus from Fetscher, though the film is short and fast moving enough for this not to be too noticeable.
“Urban Explorers” is definitely above average for its type, and one of the more enjoyable hack/slash/torture efforts of late, thanks mainly to its intriguingly sinister setting and Klaus Stiglmeier’s excellent turn in the maniac role. Well worth seeing for genre fans, whilst not offering anything new, the film is a solid, eventful shrieker with a respectable amount of gruesome set pieces along the way to its amusingly downbeat conclusion.
Andy Fetscher (director) / Martin Thau (screenplay)
CAST: Nathalie Kelley … Lucia
Nick Eversman … Denis
Klaus Stiglmeier … Armin
Max Riemelt … Kris
Catherine de Léan … Marie
Brenda Koo … Juna