28th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Stairs’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Shayne Ward, Bentley Kalu, Piotr Baumann, Simon Meacock, Toby Osmond, Samantha Schnitzler, Matt Malecki, Spencer Collings, Phoebe Robinson-Galvin, Alana Wallace, Sophie Austin | Written and Directed by Tom Paton

stairs-poster

As someone who reviews a LOT of movies, who grew up in the era of the video shop, its fun to see people clearly raised on the same types of films I enjoyed as a teenager now stepping behind the camera and making films of their own. Films that, as the filmmakers peers, I can recognise as having been influenced by the very same films I know, and in a lot of cases, love. Case in point, Tom Paton.

Paton’s last film, Black Site, clearly wore its inspirations on its sleeve, the John Carpenter-esque action-horror hybrid was just that. A John Carpenter inspired film that the genre maestro could have easily made back in his 80s heyday, probably around the time of Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China. This time round, at least to this reviewer, it would seem Paton has taken influence from not only a filmmaker but a very specific film… Michael Mann’s 1983 horror The Keep.

Stairs follows a special operations squad known in secret elite circles as Hell’s Bastards, who are sent to infiltrate a civil war in order to retrieve vital intelligence. But the crack unit soon finds themselves trapped on a never-ending, twisting and turning stairwell, which they are forced to climb – or they will die. To survive, they must revisit past sins and take important steps if they ever want to get off the staircase to nowhere.

See what I mean? A group of soldiers in a terrifying situation out of their control, beholden to a supernatural force of some kind. And whilst said soldiers fight back it seems they’re in an uphill battle (in this case literally) to escape these deadly circumstances by saving someone who could also very well be their destruction. It doesn’t hurt that Stairs also LOOKS very much like a product of the 80s – the entire film is bathed in an RGB colourscape that echoes the neon-filled look of the movies of that decade.

Whilst Shayne Ward is the most recognisable name in the cast (at least to us Brits), it’s Bentley Kalu and Samantha Schnitzler who are the real stars of the film – both of whom worked with writer/director Paton on Black Site. And that’s the thing, Paton has – over the course of four films now – put together a cadre of cast and crew that work together time after time, and all of whom seem to be getting better and better with each and every movie. Schnitzler, who was the hero of Black Site, gets to be the emotional core of this film, standing toe to toe with Kalu who brings the brain and the brawn; and both are phenomenal in their respective roles.

More sci-fi supernatural fantasy than out-and-out horror, Stairs is yet another winner from Tom Paton, showing his progression as both a filmmaker and storyteller. I’m looking forward to what comes next!

***½  3.5/5

Stairs screened on Monday August 26th as part of Arrow Video Frightfest 2019.

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