‘Catacombs’ fails at earning genuine scares

Hollywood Soapbox logoCatacombs, a horror movie from writer-directors Tomm Coker and Dave Elliot, follows Victoria (Shannyn Sossamon) as she unwittingly attends a rave party in the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris. The actual setting of these catacombs makes for an eerie cinematic environment. The corners are dark and foreboding. People creep out of nowhere. Skulls and bones line the walls. However, the writer-director team and the actors (including Pink as Victoria’s sister) can never utilize the unique surroundings for proper horrific effect. Catacombs features a basic outline, something that could be summed up in a few sentences, inflated to feature-length size.

These catacombs are real and one of the top attractions in Paris — that part of the story is true. They make for a logical setting in such a movie. The first problem, though, is that the entire story is based around this one rave party, and there’s not enough dramatic impact to make us invest in the plot that surrounds the party and characters who populate the party. The most that we learn about them is that they are interested in partying, or, in the case of Victoria, not that interested in partying. This paper-thin starting point is simply an excuse to get a bunch of drunk and drug-filled people in the dark, dark catacombs.

Of course, there needs to be a monster on the loose. It’s best not to ruin too much of the villain and the heroine’s discoveries, but don’t expect great revelations or clear pictures of what exactly is going bump in the night.

The semi-watchable parts of the movie involve Victoria running around the catacombs in search of help. Sossamon, given an underwritten role, is able to instill a sense of real dread in the character. We want her to survive. We want her to overcome these fears. Coker and Elliot, serving as writers and directors, are able to use the shadows and dark passages to their advantage, and this makes the middle part of the film the closest to being genuinely scary.

This year’s As Above, So Below also looks at the Parisian catacombs, but it remains to be seen whether a horror director will actually be able to create a scary film around such a scary setting. Catacombs is not a strong entry in this regard.

Note to reader: There’s one item to applaud. Catacombs doesn’t rely on overly graphic images or gruesome scenes to sell its few scary points. The filmmakers are more interested in eeriness than gross-out effects, and in this cinematic day and age, that’s greatly appreciated.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Catacombs

  • 2007

  • Written and directed by Tomm Coker and David Elliot

  • Starring Shannyn Sossamon, Pink and Emil Hostina

  • Running time: 100 minutes

  • Rated R for strong violence, terror and disturbing images, language, some nudity and language

  • Rating: ★½☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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