Directed by Tom Paton
Starring Samantha Schnitzler, Bentley Kalu, Shayne Ward, Simon Meacock, Toby Osmond, Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, Alana Wallace, Spencer Collings and Julia Szamalek
When a group of Special Ops soldiers nicknamed “The Hell Bastards” are compromised during an infiltration mission on the battlefield, they seek solace within the confines of a building that houses a never-ending stairwell that forces them to climb or die.
There are plenty of genre films with a doozy of a concept, that subsequently can’t quite build on it to form a rounded, interesting feature length movie.
That’s the dilemma facing Tom Paton’s Twilight Zone invoking science-fiction horror. A kind of Groundhog Day, meets M.Night Shyamalan produced elevator thriller The Devil, by way of Dog Soldiers. A slice of action hokum which thrives on some nifty-yet-familiar narrative devices, but occasionally stumbles down the odd flight of stairs along the way.
Paton’s film is a lot more than just a ‘grunts-in-peril‘ story. It’s driving force is a subtext that has been relevant in every war movie from Casualties of War to Predator: that of the responsibilities and repercussions of a soldiers actions in the field. It gives the film an unexpected weight.
However, it’s integral to the enjoyment of any movie in which the characters are randomly picked off by an unseen force, that you give a damn about their fate. They don’t need to have reams of backstory or layers of depth, just that some need to be likeable enough to root for, and others annoying to the extent that they’re at the top of the viewer’s victim sweepstake.
In this regards Stairs is only partially successful. Too many of the characters are po-faced and painfully humourless. Admittedly it’s a war-torn battlefield and they may-or-may-not be stuck on a never-ending descent into hell, but a bit of gallows humour or squadron-patter might have worked to accentuate the occasional scare.
Immune to such criticism is Toby Osmond, who shines as the only member of the ensemble with anything approaching a personality. He suffers an unfortunate accident that’s played for laughs, and also gets to crack wise about Back to the Future Part II, a film to which this owes a huge debt, especially for some of its effective final reel moments. It’s not that the remainder of the cast are bad, it’s just that their action-figure mould is rigidly set to stoic.
Belying its budget, Patton implements a great use of coloured lens filters to create atmosphere: framing the battle as a blue-hued alt-reality, or the predominant use of reds on the stairwell, add an interesting other-worldly veneer that emphasises the character and audience unease.
As a horror, the beats might feel a bit too familiar for your hardcore audience. Think zombie-girl with a tilted head and you’ll get a gist of the jumps. It’s the science-fiction, time-travel, PTSD element of Stairs that intrigues the most, with Paton wringing as much from the Edge of Tomorrow concept as possible, before knowing when to halt proceedings with a welcome dollop of ambiguity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter