Based on allegedly true reports of hikers finding stairways in the middle of the woods, The Stairs begins with eleven-year-old Jesse (Thomas Wethington) and his Granpa Jean (John Schneider, Dukes of Hazard, Penance Lane) heading off hunting. Mom (Trin Miller, St. Agatha) and Granda (Kathleen Quinlan, Chimera Strain, Event Horizon) wish them luck. They quickly shoot a deer, but while tracking it Jesse sees something and takes off after it. His grandfather catches up just in time to see him dragged into the back of a staircase in a clearing.
Twenty years Nick (Adam Korson), Josh (Brent Bailey, Break Even) and some friends go hiking in the same woods. It doesn’t take long before Rebeccah (Stacey Oristano, Shockwave) is seeing strange, and bloody, things in the woods. But it’s not until they find one of them with its husband and baby that the nightmare really starts.
Despite the film’s title, the stairs themselves don’t play that big a role in the film. After the opening scenes, we don’t even see them again until around the hour mark. For most of its running time, The Stairs is a monster in the woods film, complete with a warning about the people disappearing during the “Blood Moon”, albeit a rather strange one.
And on that level, The Stairs is a good bit of fun. There are several different creatures lurking in the forest, all created with practical effects. The most disturbing though is an agitated, badly wounded man (David S. Hogan, The Parish, Beta Test) with his distinctly non-human wife and what looks like the maggot baby from David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly. That whole scene has an incredible air of “what the fuck” around it.
Director Peter ‘Drago’ Tiemann and writer Jason L Lowe both make their feature debut here in those roles. They do however have considerable experience in effects and stunt work, frequently working together on those films. And, for first-timers, they’ve created a particularly interesting setup and some nice set pieces.
Unfortunately, they also make the common first timer’s mistake of not tying things together or explaining them. We never find out what is under the stairs. The scenes, filmed in Seattle’s Georgetown Steam Plant are certainly creepy and make good use of the location, but what is it? And why does time seem to have stopped in it? Why does the entrance only appear at certain times, and as a set of stairs of all things? And, of course, what are the creatures stalking the hikers? To me, it felt like a mashup of Door in the Woods and The Axiom, only without the explanations those films had.
And that’s too bad because it takes away from the film’s overall effect. And The Stairs has a lot going for it. Cinematographer Ryan Purcell makes the darkened woods look distinctly strange and menacing. And the cast, which also includes Tyra Colar, (Survival Skills) as Rebeccah’s girlfriend Jordan and Josh Crotty, (Psycho Stripper, Doe) as the aptly named “Dirty” Doug are all convincing in their roles.
The Stairs is still worth catching, and it will probably play even better with an audience if you happen to live in one of the cities the film is getting a theatrical showing in. It’s just too bad the script holds it back from being all it could have been.
Fathom Events and Cinedigm will screen The Stairs in movie theatres nationwide on Thursday, August 12 at 7:00 p.m. local time. For a complete list of theatre locations, visit FathomEvents.com. (theatres and participants are subject to change). You can check Cinedigm’s Facebook page for announcements of a date for VOD and Digital availability.