Synopsis: Miles of twisting catacombs lie beneath the streets of Paris, the eternal home to countless souls. When a team of explorers ventures into the uncharted maze of bones, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead.
Release Date: August 29, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Horror, Thriller
Found footage movies are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, for every Paranormal Activity there are a hundred Apollo 18s. The newest entry into the ever-growing catalog of faux-documentaries, the supernatural thriller As Above/So Below, takes the audience into the Catacombs of Paris on a terrifying treasure hunt.
As Above/So Below stars Perdita Weeks (The Invisible Woman) as Scarlett Marlowe, an overachieving girl who has made it her life’s quest to find an artifact called The Philosopher’s Stone which is said to have mystical powers. She enlists the help of her reluctant friend, George (Cloverfield‘s Ben Feldman), to translate and together they discover that the stone is supposedly somewhere deep below the city of Paris in the infamous catacombs. Along with a documentarian named Benji (Edwin Hodge from The Purge), Scarlett and George track down a guide named Papillon (Frank‘s Francois Civil) and, along with Papillon’s crew, they descend into the depths of the catacombs. Strange things happen from the minute they enter the caves. First, they end up going in circles even though Papillon swears that they were following a straight path. Next, they find a piano that George recognizes as being from the home in which he grew up. Then they come across a table with a ringing phone which, to Scarlett’s surprise, has her father’s voice on the other end of the line when she picks it up. Things only get weirder for the group as they aimlessly wander around, looking for either the Philosopher’s stone or their way out of the catacombs. The problem is that something in the catacombs wants them to stay forever, and it’s using the group’s darkest fears against them.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil), As Above/So Below is a quandary of a film. The script, written by Dowdle and his brother, Drew (who also wrote Quarantine with him), tells a pretty interesting story, but it falls back onto conveniences a little too much. For example, in one scene, Scarlett is trying to decipher a code on the back of a tombstone that can’t be seen by the naked eye. No problem, she’s got a degree in chemistry and there’s a cart full of cleaning products right over there. At another point the group has to scale down a vertical tunnel inside the catacombs. One of Papillon’s guys just happens to be an expert climber who can teach the others how to rappel down. Little contrivances like this coupled with the go-to tropes of the horror world (Scarlett and George are ex-lovers, everyone has a fear that the caverns can easily exploit, etc.) make As Above/So Below just a little too neat and tidy of a suspense movie, with not nearly as much conflict as there should be.
None of this means that As Above/So Below isn’t enjoyable. It’s got its moments, especially when it’s being claustrophobic and scary. There are sub-par sections where it turns into an all-out treasure hunt movie, with Scarlett solving puzzles and George translating tomes that lead them closer to the Philosopher’s Stone. But these sections aren’t clever enough to carry it as a real quest movie, so the film drifts back into the realm of horror frequently. It’s a pretty fair combination of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Descent, shown through the camera of The Blair Witch Project. That’s not a complaint or a compliment, just a fact. When the dust settles, As Above/So Below is a just horror movie, and a rather average one at that. Not good, not bad, just average.
The Dowdle Brothers know how to make a good found footage movie. Between Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, they’ve had a lot of practice. The first thing that is evident to the viewer about As Above/So Below is that it’s an organic found footage movie; Benji is making a documentary about Scarlett and her adventures, so he’s got a real reason for rolling tape the entire time. The Dowdles enlisted the help of documentary cinematographer Leo Hinstin (L’amour fou) to make their shaky-cam footage look crisp and realistic, so the audience is still able to see everything that it’s supposed to see, even in the darkness of the caverns. In the case of As Above/So Below, found footage was not used due to a budgetary constraint; it’s actually a very effective and intelligent way to tell the story. The shots are frantic and jumpy, but not at the expense of the film. As Above/So Below lends itself perfectly to the found footage style of filmmaking.
For a horror movie to be effective, it’s best for it to tap into a subliminal fear that the audience may have. As Above/So Below lends itself to several of these hidden nightmares. The catacombs are dark and dank, playing on the viewer’s fear of the unknown. The catacombs are also cramped and tight, which preys on the fear of closed-in spaces. The group gets hopelessly lost, so those with that fear will be able to relate. For the more visual-minded, there’s also a lot of creepy imagery in the film, supernatural stuff that provides for a lot of now-you-see-it type of scares. Finally, for the screamers, there are a handful of BOO! scares, the sudden jumpers that rely heavily on ear-bleeding sound design to get their point across. There is a fright arc to As Above/So Below; it starts off with the subliminally eerie stuff, but all hell breaks loose by the end of the film. As Above/So Below has something that will make everyone cover their eyes at least once or twice.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): John Erick Dowdle
- Screenwriter(s): Drew DowdleJohn Erick Dowdle
- Cast: Ben FeldmanEdwin HodgePerdita Weeks
- Editor(s): Elliot Greenberg
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA