BLACK OPS aka THE ASCENT (2019) Reviews and overview



‘The only way is up’

Black Ops aka The Ascent is a 2019 British science-fiction action horror feature film about a group of mercenaries that become trapped on a never-ending stairwell; forced to climb or die… it was formerly known as Stairs

Written and directed by Tom Paton (Black Site; RedWood; Pandorica),  the Mosley Productions-Goldfinch Studios production stars Shayne Ward, Toby Osmond, Sophie Austin, Alana Wallace (Black Site), Samantha Schnitzler and Bentley Kalu (Wonder Woman).


A group of mercenaries is sent into Eastern Europe in the middle of a civil war to retrieve intel, but shortly after the mission, the unit finds themselves trapped on a never-ending stairwell; forced to climb or die. To survive, they must revisit their past sins if they want to get off…

The movie is said to “blur the lines of action and horror, creating a visually unique movie that deals with time travel, the repercussions of violence and consequence. Rife with practical effects, bone-crunching fight sequences, and existential dread; it’s underpinned by a villain with a real purpose.”


Black Ops was released on VOD in the USA on June 12, 2020, from Samuel Goldwyn Films. In the UK, it was released as The Ascent by Goldfinch Entertainment on digital download on 15th June.


“For delivering a cracking film on the horror of war and the embodiment of hell, I give The Ascent a superb five out of five stars and recommend to fans of atmospheric and moving independent horror.” Addicted to Media

“The plot of this film is engaging and it does leave you wondering who will survive and curious as to how they can get out of their predicament. Viewers may lose a bit of interest when it keeps showing the same scene but this also shows how the characters are feeling having to keep going through the motions.  Stairs, a bloody redemption seeking movie and a good British horror.” The B Club

“There is some repetitive elements to the film, but this shows that if you can change the past in some way, it can have consequences for the future. A bit like the butterfly effect. This does add to the story, and some people might not stick with the film, but if you do, it is one that keeps you guessing as to what the outcome would be. I thought personally it was a great ending…” Blazing Minds

“For a film on a slim budget – the two settings are a dressed field and a flight of stairs – The Ascent remains remarkably diverting. It’s brilliantly edited, and the reference by one of the team to Back to the Future 2 shows the awareness of cinematic subtext which curiously aids the enjoyment of the film. A little shorter would have been good, but that’s a minor quibble: I think this is probably Paton’s best yet.” Bloody Flicks

“Had it been trimmed down to 80-minutes, the pace would have been tighter and there would have been less room for repetitive scenes. To be honest, it’s not an uncommon problem to find with films where characters relive moments over and over. On the plus side the direction is tight, the script is solid and the use of lighting seriously impressive.” Entertainment Focus

“As a horror, the beats might feel a bit too familiar for your hardcore audience. Think zombie-girl with a tilted head and you’ll get a gist of the jumps. It’s the science-fiction, time-travel, PTSD element of Stairs that intrigues the most, with Paton wringing as much from the Edge of Tomorrow concept as possible, before knowing when to halt proceedings with a welcome dollop of ambiguity.” Flickering Myth

Stairs is worth a look if you’re fond of slightly overlong Twilight Zone episodes that torment a bunch of mostly dull, violent soldiers who are a little slow on the uptake. While solidly made with a creepy concept and some pretty decent gore effects, unfortunately, this doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s not a fun watch, or that interesting to look at. And unless you’re Dario Argento, please leave the red and blue filters behind.” Horror DNA

“The infinite staircase is rather surreal, but the film really shines when the unit starts trying to change history. The way Paton layers each time loop over the ones that came before is surprisingly clever. Paton quite nimbly directs the time traffic and blends each successive foray into the recent past, earning comparison to Nacho Vigalondo’s TimeCrimes and Hugh Sullivan’s Infinite Man (which is high praise).” J.B. Spins

“Like all of Paton’s films, this has some weighty thoughts – about war crimes and karma – along with some blunt point-scoring […] and a mixed-ability cast who sometimes struggle with dialogue but are mostly convincing in the many fight or shoot-out scenes.” The Kim Newman Web Site

” …what we have is a low-budget film about people climbing the stairs in a parking building. Something kills some of them off but it is not clear what is killing them – they have been warned by the executed rebel not to go down and that is the only clue we get. The rest is circling through the same pieces of footage of what happened in the rebel camp as they debate about changing events, which they never do.” Moria

“Repetition, of course, can be a drag on a story’s momentum, and as we watch this team go round and round in ever-ascending circles, the narrative economy dwindles somewhat along with their numbers – yet the stakes are higher and more urgently immediate here than they ever were in Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day(1993)…” Projected Figures

“Paton does a good job of staging the film’s action sequences on what was a lowish budget. Being able to reuse some of the scenes multiple times obviously let him stretch his budget. As did using a staircase as the film’s main set. Smartly not trying to do anything to fancy in the battlefield scenes, he keeps them realistic and convincing.” Voices from the Balcony

Cast and characters:

Shayne Ward … Will Stanton
Toby Osmond … Jack Ford
Sophie Austin … Emma Walker
Simon Meacock … Shaun Buxton
Rachel Warren … The Mother
Phoebe Robinson-Galvin … Rachel Ryan
Bentley Kalu … Ben Garrett
Samantha Schnitzler … Kia Clarke
Alana Wallace … Hayley Nolan
Piotr Baumann … Pavel
Spencer Collings … Carter Harris
Matt Malecki … Mateus
Julia Szamalek … The Prisoner

Technical details:

102 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1

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