By midlandsmovies, Aug 27 2019 06:00PM
Directed by Tom Paton
The very prolific Midlands-originating director Tom Paton who has tackled 5 features in as many years returns with new movie Stairs, an action flick with lashings of fights, drama and a dark splash of the supernatural.
Opening in Eastern Europe, a group of crack commando special mercenaries are privately hired on a mission to gather intel and kill anyone who stands in their way.
After completing their task, one woman survives but Commander Will Stanton (a bearded X-Factor winner Shayne Ward) demands one of his crew (Samantha Schnitzler as Kia Clarke) leave no one alive. In cold blood she reluctantly follows his orders. Also along for the ride is Toby Osmond (Game of Thrones), Sophie Austin (Call The Midwife), Alana Wallace (Black Site) and Bentley Kalu (Wonder Woman).
From the outset and despite the low budget, the film’s design looks suitably authentic – real automatic weapons, whole fleets of jeeps and military equipment give the army set-up a realistic tone. What isn’t so realistic sadly is an overly-saturated blue filter over the sequence to represent “dawn”. A day-time shoot would have been fine and the only change in the first 15 minutes is the addition of a green filter for a point-of-view scope of a rifle shot.
Once that goes however, we have a much better-looking film (although it returns in the form of a lot of red) and once back at their headquarters, the group head up some stairs for a debrief even though Kia is haunted by the atrocity of her actions in the field.
Yet as they ascend, the team find themselves stuck in the stairwell with no comms or support but is this a drill, an emergency or something altogether much more sinister? With a bit of a nod to Dredd and The Raid where an armed group are trapped in one building location, the claustrophobia gets to the audience but also to the characters who start pontificating on their lack of progress.
With a few monologues (bit of a genre cliché but expected nonetheless) giving some exposition – perhaps a bit too much at times – the strange environment turns even weirder as they begin hallucinating a bloodied woman amid ghostly noises and whispers. A spooky piano-played child lullaby adds a supernatural feel to the proceedings and eventually one unfortunate member falls to their death.
Much to my surprise however, when the unit finally find an exit on these endless Escher-like steps, the film takes an astonishing left turn. Stepping through the door, they find themselves transported back in time to the field from the opening scene. Well I wasn’t expecting that!
A kind of Groundhog Day/Back to the Future 2 situation occurs and now the team are forced to repeat endless loops (or video game levels) of violence to resolve their predicament – learning more each time they rerun. This “circle” of hell is hinted upon in the dialogue with allusions to purgatory, faith and guilt as the characters are trapped in their personal prisons.
These aren’t fully explored sadly, as the film decides to stick to its guns (literally in fact) and follows the rigid action beats of the genre. And it also reminded me at times (in a good way) of Edge of Tomorrow and 2018’s Overlord which mixed a similar military group dealing with an inexplicable other-worldly entity.
Without spoiling any ending, the film continues with more action scenes and a satisfying amount of gory and bloody wounds to boot. As an aside, unfortunately the film uses CGI muzzle flashes which does a sad disservice to the genuine stunts and accomplishments elsewhere.
But as the film clambers to its conclusion, Stairs provides the right amount of bangs and bust-ups. And it sits alongside Outlawed as a local British film bravely attempting to take on the bigger budget actioners of Hollywood. Whilst there are certainly a few minor flaws – many simply to do with a low budget (plus my colour filter pet peeve) - the film has a very unique idea which makes it far more interesting than the usual “Expendables” style flick. So in the end, Stairs sticks with what it knows best and is well worth a climb for any fans of supernatural-infused action.