Seconds after the camera rises above the titular Streets in Step Up 2, moments after the camera fades to black, the world turns to fire. The inevitable kiss between Andie West and Chase Collins moments before merely cements this as inevitable. They have succeeded in many ways but failed in one crucial, unspoken matter. The ground is split and lightning forks across the sky. We look across and there he is: the devil has risen.
This is our point of arrival, an epilogue followed by an unwinding of days. Time slips backwards, contorts, and we find ourself back where it always begins, with the birth of a child. Then another. They scream and thrash without cadence and rhythm. They will learn patience and grace but for now all we need know is they are here. This is Step Up 2: The Abyss.
The plot, scant as it is, can be summed up like this: Tatum and Tatum, identical twins, move to Maryland with their mother (played with haunting precision by Betsy Russell). As they attend a traditional dance school, they soon discover a Fight Club-esque dance troupe (the Three Sixteens) practising under a bridge near the school. They dance, we discover, to prevent the devil’s ascension. As we watch them dance we learn something brilliant, terrible: Mother Tatum brought her family to Maryland to counteract this work. We, the audience, are stunned to discover our heroes are in fact villains. There is a moment of silence and then a bomb goes off, destroying the bridge. In the smoke and ashes we meet their father (the spine chilling Tobin Bell) who congratulates his children. We learn that Father Tatum paid the ultimate price for the dark lord years before. It soon becomes hard to gauge where the dancing ends and the satanic rituals begin. In the rubble of the bridge, the fever of the rhythm increases as the film bops between discomfort and intoxication. The action draws the characters to a graveyard for the climactic scenes where they must mirror the moves of the final dances in The Streets, where Andie and Chase, either unwitting participants or sly saviours, attempt to save us from the Tatums. Understanding is masked by the order of creation. In the end we are left with no clear answers simply a world being cleansed with fire.
The narrative symmetry of the two films is stunning. Each move, each thrust forward in The Abyss, is a counterpoint to one from the Streets and what is not said and done in either film becomes more important than what is. The ghosts of Andie West’s past and future, innocent and garrulous, are sculpted into uncorrectable horrors by the rhythmic chaos of the Tatums, as they exploit the ignorance of their classmates. There are no inevitabilities. There are no resolutions. There are only more questions. There has been much written of its meaning in the wake of Step Up 3D.
In The Streets, characters yearn to escape the boxes they have been placed in by teachers, parents or themselves; in The Abyss the outgoing and sociable Tatums grow distant and tired. Scenes of wild pastures and sunlit skies are followed by increasingly claustrophobic dark houses and rooms growing smaller. Soon it feels like the walls are closing in, teetering forward en pointe like a ballet dancer, encasing the Tatums in a coffin. But they find liberation is constraint – when options are taken away they must make the most with what they’ve got. They find new and exhilarating ways to move. It is quixotic, and soon it is not they who dance their bodies but their bodies who dance them.
The most telling part comes in the moments after pinch two, where the two Tatums wake surrounded by darkness. A synecdoche for either entire film: they are staring into The Abyss, as we all must do from time to time.It is a reminder: when you stare into The Abyss, The Abyss stares right back. Then it gets you dancing. And then it sets you on fire.
Engulfed in perpetual flame, Ross McCleary lives and writes in Edinburgh. His debut Fringe Show “Knife Whimsy,” co-written and performed with Andrew Blair, was given a PBH Spoken Word Award for Best Double Act. Fictional pieces and poems have appeared in: Dactyl, Valve, Spontaneity and Northern Renewal. He also has a blog dedicated to Real Life magazines at: reallyreallife.tumblr.com.
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