Written by: Matt Patti | August 11th, 2021
The Stairs (Peter ‘Drago’ Tiemann, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
There are many fantastic, unique sci-fi concepts out there in films today that invigorate people’s minds and quench their thirst for innovative, thought-provoking ideas. Unfortunately, the new horror/sci-fi hybrid The Stairs is not one of them. The film’s initial premise and many of its subsequent plot points are all material that we have seen before in numerous other forms, and its few unique features are just slightly altered versions of things already existing in a variety of other sci-fi and horror works. The film doesn’t have any huge issues or shortcomings, but it is the mundane, unoriginal plot mixed with unfulfilling character work that holds the film back from being a quality experience.
The Stairs begins with a young child and his grandfather going on a hunting trip. After shooting a buck, Jesse (Thomas Wethington) and his grandpa, Gene (John Schneider, Switched), attempt to follow its trail of blood. Along the way, Jesse finds a flawless, exquisite staircase in the middle of the woods. The steps go off to the left and right but end abruptly. He notices a creature behind the stairs and goes to investigate but is pulled seemingly into the staircase by an unseen force. Grandpa Gene attempts to save him but is also dragged into the mysterious phenomena. 20 years later, a group of friends go hiking in the same woods where Jesse and Gene disappeared. They witness many peculiar events in the forest and also end up coming across the same set of stairs that Jesse discovered. As strange happenings continue around them, they must fight to survive.
The Stairs is not a terrible film, and technically, it is quite well made. Vivid cinematography and exceptional sound design make it a pleasurable viewing experience from the first shot onward. Most of the performances are passable, with the exception being Wethington’s performance as Jesse, along with some slightly cheesy lines throughout the film. The group of hikers are diverse enough to not blend together and some of the characters are a bit compelling. Also, the ending of the film offers a rare, different choice than most films of this type, which I found refreshing.
However, when looking back, I really cannot come up with one solid aspect of it that stands out. Director Peter ‘Drago’ Tiemann, making his debut, doesn’t do anything exceptionally well. Even the surprise ending is more of just a fun oddity than anything magnificent. I think my main issue, though, is that there is a lack of conflict throughout much of the runtime. Like some films of the horror genre, nothing very intriguing or frightening happens until the second half. However, other movies that follow this same pattern at least have some kind of conflict in the first half that keeps the audience on edge. This film contains none of that, only minor inconveniences that the director attempts to disguise as genuine conflict, but without tension.
The unspectacular plot and run-of-the-mill characters, paired with a myriad of other, smaller issues such as exposition-heavy scenes, poor costume design, and forced emotional moments combine to equal an unexciting, disappointing film. Even the titular stairs play a very small, irrelevant role. The film would not change much at all if they were removed from it … that’s how insignificant they are. By no means is The Stairs awful; it has a solid foundation and there aren’t many egregious errors in it. In the end, though, it simply does not do enough to be memorable, and, just like the staircase in the film, leads nowhere.