‘As Above, So Below’

As Above, So Below

“We have to keep going…”

Hey, it’s me again! You might have thought that I planned on exclusively reviewing the Halloween franchise of movies. No, I’ll be reviewing other horror flicks as well. Here’s a recent theatrical release called…

As Above, So Below (2014) — Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Starring Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar.

If somebody turned Tomb Raider into a low budget, found footage horror movie, As Above, So Below might be the outcome. Our hero is Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), an aspiring Lara Croft/Indiana Jones archaeologist/adventurer type whose search for the famed Philosopher’s Stone drives her to make questionable decisions, i.e. traveling to Iran to search a series of soon to be destroyed underground tunnels. She finds the information she needs, while narrowly escaping with her life, but the text is in Aramaic. Since this is not one of the half dozen languages she is fluent in, she searches out a former boyfriend, George (Ben Feldman), for his skills at deciphering the ancient script. He reluctantly helps her and what they discover leads them to the catacombs under Paris. Scarlett puts together the remainder of her ragtag team of misfits, including cameraman, Benji (Edwin Hodge), a guide named Papillon (François Civil), and a couple of other unlucky characters. With cameras strapped to their heads, they descend into the catacombs, through the infrequently explored tunnels and discover… well, literally the gates of hell.

As Above, So Below was directed by John Erick Dowdle, who also directed Quarantine and Devil, neither of which I’ve gotten around to watching, as well as The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which I found to be one of the dullest faux-documentary/found footage movies I’ve ever seen. Based on a quick glance online at the reviews, I had low expectations going into his new film but overall I ended up having a good time with this fun but flawed flick.

The opening third of As Above, So Below is its weakest aspect. The echoes from the movies that inspired it ring too loudly in the script. The reunion between Scarlett and George brought to mind Indiana Jones and Marion too easily and the rapid rate at which they solve centuries old riddles is far too close to The DaVinci Code for comfort. As they approach their goal, Scarlett tries to convince a reluctant George to accompany her through the entire operation. In spite of his feeble protestations, it’s obvious the plot requires him to eventually give in, which makes having to suffer through his incessant whining about staying behind particularly annoying.

The film becomes more engaging when it makes its way down to the forbidden areas below the catacombs. Tension grows as their guides encounter new twists and turns in once familiar territory. There are a couple of eerie sequences and a brief but great scene where Benji is stuck while inching through a very tight passage. His panic provides a bit of realistic tension that is effective at prepping you for the supernatural scares to come.

Diagram of the circles of Hell.The further the crew descends the stranger and spookier things get. They encounter a dusty, old piano, possibly from George’s childhood, and Scarlett has a brief, mysterious conversation on a phone that she answers. Some of it is silly but I found myself getting caught up in the journey. At last they reach a small entrance with the phrase “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” engraved above it. If the film’s poster, which is a representation of the diagram of Hell as portrayed by the Eiffel Tower, isn’t a strong enough clue, this should make clearer the film’s references to Dante’s Inferno (though there are actually several more lines above the entrance to Hell in the epic poem)I was kind of hoping they would travel through all nine circles but alas they do not. That’s too bad as I would have greatly enjoyed a movie brave or ridiculous enough to show us Minos wrapping his tail around the sinful souls as he sentences them to their fates… or to see the sowers of discord hacked to pieces. Perhaps I’ll just have to settle for this wonderful video.

This time around I was hardly aware of the found footage aspect of the film. Perhaps the style is so prevalent now, found even within movies that are not completely a part of the sub-genre, that I’ve grown accustomed to it. The jerky motion of the camera that is so typical, and understandably off-putting to some, did not distract me from the story. The setting goes a long way toward making the scares effective. I’m not sure where the location is but the caves and tight passages look great and are well shot.

Unfortunately the third act barrels along rapidly as some form of judgement and punishment is meted out to each member of the band of explorers. “We have to keep going,” the characters say to each other so frequently it’s as though the screenwriter himself felt he might be in danger of languishing too long in one scene or another. The sense of hurry, hurry, hurry! is typified in a scene where Scarlett retraces her steps back to a previous location to solve some puzzle, running at full speed while punching into dust the damned souls made of stone along the way. It is enormously ridiculous, and yet delightfully so.

If finding creepy things beyond narrow, underground passages is your thing, and you don’t hold a grudge against found footage movies, As Above, So Below is worth checking out. Though guilty of resembling too closely its sources of inspiration, I’m not quite inclined to send it to hell for such transgressions.

This is as good a time as any to suggest checking out the Ted the Caver story, an early “creepypasta” tale that I read years ago and found enthralling. You are welcome!

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