'As Above So Below'
‘As Above So Below’ is yet another Found-Footage horror movie, but at least this one has an interesting hook and some genuine scares. Pulling audiences deep into the genuinely frightening underground catacombs of Paris, the film definitely has highpoints. Cut it down to a 30 minute show-reel and you’d really have something worthwhile. Unfortunately, it’s a feature length movie. Ho-hum.
The film opens up as a sort of docu-‘Tomb Rader’. Perdita Weeks stars as an archeologist/historian/adventurer in search of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone with a one-man documentary crew (Edwin Hodge) at her side. Convinced that she finally knows where to look, she ends up in Paris, where she meets up with a former friend and archeologist/historian/adventurer partner played by Ben Feldman. Turns out that the stone might be hidden in the catacombs under Paris (a massive underground tomb containing somewhere in the neighborhood of six million corpses). Now, to get where she needs to go, taking a tourist tour isn’t really an option. So she hooks up with a collection of French ne’er do wells led by Francois Civil, who can sneak her down through a secret passage. Wouldn’t ya know it, they end up being forced through a mysterious path that no one has ever entered before. The treasure hunt quickly turns into a claustrophobic nightmare backed with surreal scares and a very warm final destination that can be quite easily inferred from the title.
The setting that director John Erick Dowdle (who also wrote the screenplay with his brother Drew) chose for this tacky Found-Footage delight is at least evocative and often downright frightening. When the horror engine in the script is fired up at top gear, Dowdle gets some well-earned jumps and intense tension. When the big reveal about which subgenre of horror film this actually is finally arrives, it’s even a fresh stomping ground for Found-Footage horror, and the decision to conveniently shove cameras onto most characters’ heads leads to surreal POV scare sequences the work surprisingly well (as long as you can see what’s happening, of course, but I haven’t gotten to the knock-down/tear-down part of the review yet). The movie has at least a half hour of effective and creative shocks and scares that work well enough, and the acting is even passable throughout. In fact, you might wander out of the theater convinced that the film was decent. If there are enough sweaty-palmed moments in a horror flick, it’s gotta be a success, right? Well, not so much…
For all of the good material at the center of ‘As Above So Below’, a big steaming pile of stink surrounds it. The biggest problem is the Found-Footage conceit. The concept, setting and surreal third act are so visually compelling that it’s a shame you can never really see what’s happening. The conceit is never properly justified. There’s simply no discernable reason for anyone to be filming this material. In fact, aside from two quick moments establishing the camera’s presence, the documentary isn’t even acknowledged, suggesting that the mockumentary style was tacked on at the last minute to make the script an easier sell. Worst of all, the screenplay is so full of plot holes and gaps in logic that it borders on being completely nonsensical. Character motivations are never quite clear, the rules of the world are never properly laid out, and by the end it’s hard to trace a connection between where the movie started and how it ended. Weeks and Feldman spend much of their screen time solving ancient archeological riddles and puzzles with the same pattern, tones, and leaps of logic that Adam West and Burt Ward did on ‘Batman’. At times, those scenes feel so much like the ’60s camp classic that you might start to think the movie is homage or parody. Nope, it’s just lazy writing.
‘As Above So Below’ is a big mess of a movie, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not worth seeing. That all comes down to expectation. Plenty of horror movie viewers ask for little more than a couple of decent scare sequences and some accidental campy comedy from a crappy screenplay. That’s not exactly the definition of art, but if you enjoy trash it’s a moderately adequate substitute for a fully polished horror flick. ‘As Above So Below’ might not be close to a success, but it’s not a failure either. It’s not boring and it hits as many effective high notes as it does amusing low notes. It’s passable garbage if such a thing appeals to you on a night in desperate search of entertainment or a quick fix jump scare. It could have been worse. It could have been ‘The Purge: Anarchy’.