Last year when I reviewed writer and director Tom Paton’s brilliant Black Site I ended by saying “Who knows what his wicked warped wonderful mind will create next.” The answer is Stairs which played this year’s FrightFest and yet again I was blown away by Paton’s pure creative force.
Showing as before that an original idea is far more vital than a big budget and a star studded cast Stairs jumps genre’s and confounds expectations. Opening before dawn in Eastern Europe in the war torn countryside we see a platoon of soldiers assaulted by an international special ops squad led by no nonsense hard nut Will Stanton (Shayne Ward from Coronation Street) who is under orders to leave no survivors.
When the team find a terrified woman tied up in a tent Kia Clarke (Black Sites Samantha Schnitzler) defies Stanton’s instructions refusing to slay the seemingly innocent captive. Her commanding officer demands she obey him pulling rank and a gun on her and reluctantly she murders the prisoner (Julia Szamalek) but not before she utters her cryptic and creepy last words “Don’t go down.”
Back in Britain before dusk the entire team head for a debriefing at the top of the tall tower block that is their base. With the lift out of order they start to head up the stairs however after a while climbing and seemingly getting nowhere they realise all is not right. Suddenly an alarm sounds, darkness overcomes the levels below them and the final words of the woman Kia killed come rushing back along with something far more frightening.
After the epic action opening filmed all in blue and black and featuring point of view shots akin to playing a first person shooter Tom Paton takes the cast of tough characters straight into the nightmarish staircase that remains the setting for most of the rest of the movie.
Like the legend of Sisyphus the soldiers climb and climb but get nowhere but they soon understand that climb they must as what lies below is far worse than the endless exhaustion ahead.
It takes a true talent like Patton to make a single location not only interesting but fearfully foreboding as well and as the plot thickens he throws a few more unexpected tricks in to keep the audience thoroughly engaged.
Although mainly unknowns the cast are excellent especially Game of Thrones Toby Osmond who plays Jack Ford the comedic relief amidst the madness and Bentley Kalu who as Ben Garrett makes a moral transformation from cold blooded mercenary to saviour of the powerless due to the trauma they are all trapped in.
Highlighting the atrocities of war Stairs also attempts to humanise the enemy while demonising the heroes showing the complexities of conflict and the thin grey line that exists between champion and villain, a line that can be crossed sometimes by just changing one action.
Delivering scares menace and most important of all a mind bendingly brilliant story Patton continues to deliver above expectations considering the limited budget he obviously gets offered. Ultimately Stairs features action, horror and Sci-Fi what more do you want!