It began in the pre-dawn light of a field in some country in Eastern Europe, a Black Ops strike team closing in on the heavily armed encampment of an unnamed enemy, their orders to kill everyone on site and extract any intelligence documents they may be holding; what wasn’t accounted for was that there might be hostages on site, a girl, bound and bloodied, but team leader Will Stanton is clear: orders are orders.
Extracted by helicopter, the bloody scene of the massacre is far behind when they arrive for their debrief, but the last thing the hostage said before her summary execution at the hands of those who could have rescued her continues to haunt them, the warning “don’t go down.”
The lift in their headquarters out of order, the team begin the ascent to the top floor, but something below is following them as the stairs spiral ever upwards with no sign of ending and every exit door a mysterious portal leading back to the battlefield they have left behind.
The staccato dialogue offering little in the way of character, the squad more given to swearing and squabbling than any form of imagination – Stanton insists the bizarre events are a training mission while his team insist they are supernatural – The Ascent marks the feature debut of Coronation Street‘s Shayne Ward as Stanton, bullying his team rather than leading, supported by Game of Thrones‘ Toby Osmond and Spencer Collings, Hollyoaks‘ Sophie Austin and Viking Siege‘s Samantha Schnitzler.
Written and directed by Tom Paton, The Ascent is a brutal war movie, a science fiction horror film, a consideration of duty versus morality and atonement, a cross between Groundhog Day if Bill Murray was heavily armed, trigger-happy and particularly obtuse, each visit back to the site of their mission offering the possibility the past might play out differently and lead them to a different present.
Carrying all the menace and atmosphere of a concrete shopping centre stairwell, The Ascent is neither Copenhagen nor Rashōmon, the different perspectives of the repeated scenes instead the narrative stagnation of multiple reuses of the footage which commandeered the budget as the survivors stand by and fail to intervene, fighting with each other rather than the dilemma, leaving themselves and the viewer in a purgatory of monotony.