"Urban explorers" is one of the names given to people who have made a hobby of adventuring their way into forbidden or forlorn pieces of infrastructure, often underground ones like abandoned subway stations or sewer systems. The "urbex" or "UE" community are probably best known to outsiders for taking some pretty cool photos. This potentially dangerous and sometimes illegal activity has a community of enthusiasts all over the world.
And now, like so many other subcultures, it's been co-opted into a cheesy horror movie.
Urban Explorer (or Urban Explorers as it's titled in the actual film) is a German-made movie directed by Andy Fetscher and released in 2011 (it's just come out on DVD and Bluray in the U.K. this week). As the trailer makes plain, the film is not exactly focused on finding neat stormdrains to photograph.
The plot starts out predictably enough: Four tourists in Berlin have hired the services of a guide who will take them down to explore the city's abandoned tunnels. They enter (naturally!) through the back room of a thumping nightclub and descend down into the dank, rusting and altogether creepy underground.
Down they go, in t-shirts, shorts and even shorter shorts, in search of adventure and, it turns out, a sealed-off Nazi-era bunker. At one point they unexpectedly run into and scuffle with a couple of neo-Nazis, who never come back into the film.
When an ill-timed camera flash causes the guide to fall down a pit, the tourists are forced to split up: two to stay with the severely injured guide and two to go get help – after they find their way back out. From this point on, the film devolves into boilerplate torture/suspense along the lines of the Saw films. It's as gruesome as it is predictable.
A you might imagine, members of the serious urbex forum Urban Exploration Resource are not particularly impressed.
"ugh... horror is not the genre for urbex," writes one commenter. "The real urbex movie would be like an adult version of the goonies, am i right?"
Adds another: "The film trailer seemed like anti-urbex propaganda to me."
This attempt at dramatizing the geeky world of urban exploration isn't accurate (or particularly effective), but it's not really trying to be. Thankfully, the internet abounds with information, images and even videos of authentic urban exploration activities. Forums like UER offer tips and plenty of photo galleries. There's even a feature-length documentary called Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness that follows a number of actual explorers as they tour through abandoned sites and underground infrastructures. (That film is currently streaming on Netflix).
A really great fictional film about urban exploration could certainly be made. This is not it.