Dull, uninteresting Victoria gets a postcard from her hedonistic sister Carolyn (played by the singer, Pink) to come to Paris, where she meets Carolyn's incredibly annoying, juvenile friends. Victoria is a fragile flower who is on medication for her nerves, is frightened of the dark, and hallucinates grisly scenarios. So where better to take her than a party among the dead people in the creepy catacombs underground. These parties are illegal, and so secret they are "never in the same place twice", despite apparently having huge, impressive lighting rigs fixed to the ceilings. But no sooner has the creepy-but-forgettable Jean-Michele rattled off some spooky campfire story about a killer in an animal mask, than Victoria finds herself being chased by a killer in an animal mask. And - before you can say "generic slasher movie cliches" - we see her running, screaming and tripping over a lot.
The Paris catacombs is a great setting for a horror movie. It's mysterious and eerie. It's a labyrinth of dark, skeleton-lined tunnels, lit only by the light of a torch. How could this film fail to be anything but terrifying? Well - by completely drowning it in over-loud, thumpy music, for a start. At times it felt like I was watching a music video. By switching my TV sound off, these sequences were a whole lot more tense to watch. It's a shame the film makers didn't realise that. In one supposedly dramatic chase sequence, I was more interested in how much of the movie was left to get through. During a chase sequence?
The influences for the movie would appear to include The Descent (2005), Creep (2004), April Fool's Day (1986) and My Bloody Valentine (1981). But it certainly didn't copy any of their atmosphere or tension. Unfortunately it also relies on the type of jump scares that are less about scare, and more about a sudden crash of noise as something not-particularly-frightening happens.
I don't know whether it was just the copy I had, but the sound levels are another issue. The music is much, much louder than the scenes containing dialogue, which meant I had to choose between struggling to hear what characters were saying, or having my ears blasted by pulsating bass. I assume that appealing to a particular audience was more a priority than engaging a horror audience in a watchable film.
As for the central character, I struggled to relate to (or even like) Victoria. She seemed cold and distant, and to be honest I didn't care what happened to her at all. This wasn't helped by the acting which, to me, made her seem flat and lacking in emotion. As things progressed, my indifference started turning to irritation. After being chased by a man with a deadly weapon, we see her wandering around the dark tunnels shouting, "Hello? Is anybody there?". When her torch stops working and plunges her (and her assailant) into darkness, she starts talking to herself loudly while trying to fix the light. During a chase sequence, she shouts, "Leave me alone!". And all that is on top of lots of screaming. How can the masked guy not find her?!
After the first act helpfully spells out to us how emotionally/mentally 'fragile' Victoria is, it's fairly predictable that she would become the 'strong' final girl. But I wasn't expecting to want the attacker to catch her. I would have been shouting "She's in here!" for him to come and get her, if she didn't already seem to be doing it herself.
When the ending finally arrives, it comes with a twist. An incredibly ridiculous and annoying one. Yes it was 'borrowed' from another well-known slasher film. But a slasher film that was so much better. It just felt like an ending had been needed, and here was a quick and easy option.
Are there any parts of Catacombs I thought were good? Yes, the photography is artistic and actually very impressive. I really liked it. The framing and lighting in some scenes are excellent. The sets are also well done. Apparently filming took place in Romania with replica sets of the Paris catacombs, which look great. (It's a pity so much attention to detail wasn't given to replicating the French accents.) The Foley is not bad, though slightly over-enthusiastic on occasion. I fear several watermelons and cabbages may have come to unpleasant ends. There is surprisingly little gore or actual violence shown, which isn't a criticism. As long as a horror film can entertain me, scare me, disturb me, or give me something to think about, then it has succeeded.
Oops. Oh dear.
Catacombs is not a very good film, nor is it so bad-it's-fun. The biggest emotion it stirred in me was annoyance. With a ridiculous 'twist' ending, acting performances that range from weak to unremarkable, unlikable characters, and no tension or atmosphere, the fantastic potential of the creepy setting appears to have been sadly wasted. Quel dommage.