Synopsis: When a team of explorers ventures into the catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead.
Sneaking onto theaters this weekend with little to no fanfare, As Above, So Below is yet another entry in my least favorite horror sub genre – found footage films. I have complained in the past on their overall amateurism, but the fact that they’re so darned cheap to make ensures that they’ll continue to be released. And while this film is a cut above the standard found footage nonsense that I’m used to, eventually it just runs itself right off of the proverbial rails. But not without a decent jolt or two…
Perdita Weeks plays Scarlett Marlowe, a professor who’s also something of an adventurer. When we’re introduced to her character, she’s sneaking into Iran in order to find a clue as to the whereabouts of the fabled philosophers stone. Her late father (an expert in alchemy), also spent the majority of his life searching for the stone, but committed suicide before he could find it. She’s found the final clue and believes it’s the key to locating the famed stone, but it’s in Aramaic and she travels to Paris to find her old friend, George (Ben Feldman), to translate and assist her in finding the stone. After some cajoling, he agrees to help her and they figure out that the stone is located somewhere underneath the Paris streets. In the legendary Catacombes de Paris, where the bones of over six million dead people lie undisturbed. Helping them out is an expert in traversing the catacombs, Papillon (Francois Civil), Zed (Ali Marhyar), Souxie (Marion Lambert) & Benji (Edwin Hodge), a documentarian who ensures that their entire adventure will be filmed and we’ll have ourselves a movie to watch.
As they begin their journey, there’s a palpable sense of dread which, while brief, helped to make me a bit nervous. The majority of the film takes place in the catacombs and director John Erick Dowdle really milks it for all it’s worth. Somehow, he got permission from Paris to go further into those tunnels with a camera further than anyone before, and it shows. The conglomeration of bones, and the stories behind all of those bones, lend the film a measured sense of terror that would be near impossible to replicate using conventional Hollywood sets. Co written by Drew Dowdle, the script starts out interestingly enough, and Weeks displays an uncommon air of fearlessness to her character that’s not the norm for females in films as of late. She’s essentially Indiana Jane here and Weeks takes the ball and runs with it without a hint of fear.
All of the other actors are good in the roles, but as the film develops, it becomes increasingly obvious that there’s literally only one trick to this pony. I knew who was gonna bite the big one pretty much from the get go, and the script really gets bogged down in the middle as our not so intrepid adventurers continue to go down into the lower levels of the catacombs, despite seeing what they’ve seen (To be fair, the script makes it so they literally can’t retrace their steps and escape). But therein lies my biggest issue with the film, why go down there in the first place? There’s a scene in which they’ve just entered the tunnels (After nearly being captured by the police), and they run into a group of women wearing white shrouds, chanting some unholy sounding dirge, amidst a slew of white candles. Who were they? Why were they there? The script literally just poo pooh’s them away with a throwaway line and they’re never revisited. But I question the foolhardiness of the characters directly after the encounter. I mean really, after seeing the weird chanting ladies, would any of you continue into a underground series of tunnels plastered from floor to ceiling with human bones?
I know some of you are saying “Hell Yeah!“, but I don’t believe you for a second.
There’s a few more odd encounters to be found here that really don’t inspire too much of a response from the characters here, but the film never ceased to fascinate me (At least thematically). I was really curious about how the whole thing was gonna end and when they eventually end up at a cave entrance with “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” (Essentially acknowledging they arrived at the gates of Hell), I was expecting some fireworks to come calling. But the script isn’t looking to terrify its audience with loud explosions and big demons, it’s looking to terrify us subtly with the claustrophobic setting and the overwhelming sense that our intrepid team of adventurers are doomed. In that aspect, the film works perfectly – it’s seriously creepy. But it isn’t scary, not in the slightest.
And therein lies the rub. As Above, So Below succeeded in making me nervous for a spell, but once it reveals what’s going on down in those catacombs, I pretty much relegated myself to the idea that I wasn’t going to be scared. The Dowdle’s are responsible for films like The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007), Devil (2010) & Quarantine (2011), and if you’re at all familiar with any of those films, then you know what you’re getting here with this one. They’re more about atmosphere & mood than outright scares, and while there’s nothing wrong with that (I really liked Devil actually), the setup here is rife with opportunities for some gigantic frights and it just doesn’t deliver any. I saw this with my 13 year old son and he really enjoyed it, but not because he thought it was scary – he thought it was a very “Exciting Adventure“. I’m pretty sure that’s not the reaction the film is shooting for…
So while there are some mild frights to be found in the film, that’s all they are – mild frights. If you’re the claustrophobic type, then As Above, So Below will scare you a tad more than it did me. But in my opinion, those few scares aren’t enough to warrant buying a ticket to see it. It lays out what looks to be a great dinner table, but all of the dishes on that table are empty – and it leaves its audience hungry.
As Above, So Below – 1.75 out of 5 shrouds.