As Above, So Below (2014) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Francois Civil, Edwin Hodge, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenplay: Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle
Review published August 29, 2014
As Above So Below, a phrase borne from occult-leaning Hermetic texts that what happens in one reality also happens in other realms, is yet another found-footage horror excursion featuring lots of attractive 20-something actors panting and freaking out every time something creepy appears for a half-second while their head-mounted cameras shake and wobble incessantly. It's not the worst example of the genre, but the novelty popularized by The Blair Witch Project wore out years ago. Plus, with each successive example, the rationale for the footage being found and edited in such a fashion gets increasingly less explainable. More on that below.
The plot: Scarlett Marlowe (Weeks, The Invisible Woman) is a student of history, archaeology, and alchemy has decided to shoot a documentary in which she and her cohorts venture down into the creepy, skeleton-filled catacombs underneath the Parisian streets in order to find and ancient, mystical stone (called the Philosopher's Stone, which will likely confuse Harry Potter fans) said to grant life-prolonging powers. However, the route is dangerous and long, and the further they venture down, the more Hellish the surroundings -- perhaps for a reason.
As Above So Below isn't poorly acted, and features a nice starring turn for its leading lady, Perdita Weeks, whose character seems have been cast with another "tomb raider" in mind, Lara Croft, except without the weaponry. The winsome Weeks is perhaps the only aspect of the movie you would like to see more of in the future. Where the film errs isn't really in its cast but in its writing, which eschews making any sort of sense in favor of trying to create an atmosphere of "Dante's Inferno" by way of modern-day, low-reaching technique. Take for instance a scene in which one of the characters translates an Aramaic inscription, but when he does, it is read like a poem written in English, with perfect meter and AABB rhyming style. Now that is translation talent!
The sound design is another strong suit, even though the action is invariably claustrophobic, dimly lit, and will likely make those susceptible to motions sickness reach for their Dramamine. Eventually, characters do begin to die, but given that they're never built up, we scarcely care. Plus, this makes the found-footage aspect particularly problematic. How can they edit together this film when some of the footage is shot by characters who are dead and gone, trapped forever in the pit of Hell? The only emotional response to any of what we view is in averting our eyes or sticking our fingers in our ears as we anticipate the next spooky specter to jump out, accompanied by thunderously shrill noise accompaniment.
With a hodge-podge of ideas taken from the aforementioned The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Descent, the story and style feel too familiar to be intrigued by, and the formula jump-scares rely far more on use of sound and ugly images to evoke fright than any sort of suspense director Dowdle (Devil, Quarantine) can muster. You feel like it's a film in which every element is something you've seen somewhere else before, and by the end, you get the sense that this movie is something you'll never want to watch again.
The ability to shoot in the small, cavernous location with very little lighting, echoing sound, and claustrophobic atmosphere is commendable, and yet there just isn't enough story to carry a full-length film, especially when we're getting generic characters that aren't really fun or interesting to follow. It's not even good for more than about one or two semi-scary jolts, which, even as a low-budget horror flick, makes As Above, So Below is just so below par.
©2014 Vince Leo