Fantasia Fest 2011: 'Urban Explorer' Review


The German horror import Urban Explorer is a "glass half full" sort of proposition. More specifically, it's a rock-solid setting for a scary story that, unfortunately, is virtually bereft of a narrative that suits it. Stop me when this sounds like something you've seen before:

Five young adults decide to go "urban exploring" deep within the underground catacombs of Berlin. 

(still with me?)

Their subterranean exploits yield dangers considerably more hazardous than some rusty nails and crumbling walls.

(anywhere know where this is going yet?)

After much wandering, lots of chatting, and numerous bad decisions, our quintet runs into a horrible accident, which requires them to split up...

(no spoilers, trust me)

...only to run afoul of a horrible, sleazy, old psychopath who does all sorts of horrible things to our stupid urban explorers.

So you get the point: someone got pretty lazy in the screenplay department -- which is sort of a shame, because, visually speaking and in reference to intangible components like tone, style, and intensity, Andy Fetscher's Urban Explorer earns some rather high marks. The Berlin underground makes for an effortlessly disturbing setting, and the filmmakers present it well: deep shadows, sharp angles, omnipresent muck and general unpleasantness.

No complaints to speak of regarding Urban Explorer in the departments of cinematography, tone, editing, special effects or even acting (that last one surprised me as well) -- but once you realize that there are so many technical components cooking in the service of a premise this basic and perfunctory, it only makes you that much more irritated with the script.

The kids are written broadly and simplistically, but they're portrayed colorfully enough -- but the murderer himself is sort of a problem. Veteran German performer Klaus Stiglmeier digs down deep to deliver a freaky villain who's both bloodthirsty and surprisingly tenacious, but he also (and often) comes across like a feral German version of Lee Marvin. Weird and slightly disturbing ... but not all that scary. Gorehounds will no doubt delight in two of the flick's more gruesome dispatches, and (as mentioned) the underground location is perpetually dank and quietly spooky, but Urban Explorer ultimately suffers from a bad case of quick, skimpy screenwriting.

Clear evidence of some filmmakers who know what they're doing behind the camera, Urban Explorer feels a lot like Christopher Smith's debut, Creep, from a few years back. Only Mr. Smith found a way to throw a wrinkle into the old "underground bloodbath" premise, whereas Urban Explorer is content to stomp through numerous well-traveled tunnels.


Read FEARnet's partner reviews for 'Urban Explorer'