Release Date: 29th August 2014
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert
The remains of over six million people are interred in the catacombs of Paris. Stacks of skulls form patterns within the piles of bones that act as walls. It’s dark, quiet and creepy as hell. As Above, So Below sees a group of intrepid adventurers, scholars and filmmakers voyage through this nightmarish landscape to track down a mythical jewel; its capabilities granting untold riches and eternal life. In doing so they will have to face their personal demons, literally and metaphorically. Prepare to be startled by things lurching out of the dark with a great crashing noise; it’s yet another found-footage horror film.
Young and adventurous University professor Scarlett can talk the talk in multiple languages (including a couple of dead ones) and walk the walk. With numerous degrees, including one in symbology – an academic discipline Dan Brown made up for The Da Vinci Code – she describes herself as an urban archaeologist (which also sounds made-up) and travels the world in a quest to find the legendary alchemical device the philosopher’s stone.
After a faintly ludicrous opening sequence that sees her investigate a network of tunnels in Iran, Scarlett discovers an Aramaic etching that leads to the resting place of the notorious Flamel Stone. From Iran she heads to Paris, hoping to find an old friend who speaks Aramaic; one of the dead languages that Scarlett can’t read. Upon translation they discover that, conveniently enough, the stone is located deep within the macabre maze of tunnels snaking beneath the city. So Scarlett, along with her friend George and cameraman Benji, team up with a group of Parisian cavers to venture into the uncharted nooks and crannies of the catacombs.
With a fun (if a little hokey) premise there are some nice ideas at work here. The treasure hunt at the centre of the film adds a fresh spin to the tired found footage genre; the core concept for As Above, So Below is like a strange hybrid of Tomb Raider, The Descent and Solaris. Unfortunately it never really coalesces properly into a fully coherent story on its own merit, and increasingly relies on the stale horror movie cliches that are strewn across the latter parts of the film.
Worse still, the eerie setting is largely wasted. Aside from a few wobbly pans across mounds of skulls and bones early on, the action is largely obfuscated by the shaky camera work that thrashes wildly like an angry goose. Director John Erick Dowdle has prior experience in the found footage genre with Quarantine but still manages to turn out an ugly and visually unintelligible picture that bangs, crashes and wobbles in a way that quickly becomes tiresome.
Heavy handed, po-faced and not particularly scary, As Above, So Below is a poor film elevated by some neat ideas. It’s a pity that the creepy location and weird themes of alchemy and magick are bogged down in what is a tired and formulaic piece of filmmaking.