As Above/So Below Movie Review

As a horror junkie it’s hard to resist the appeal of the Parisian Catacombs as the setting for a decent into the literal and metaphorical darkness of the genre. A historical artifact left over from a bygone era, where the bones of over six million people rest in various states of arrangement and disorder, they exist just below the surface streets of a bustling metropolis and famed city of eternal romance. In their new film As Above/So Below, the Brothers Dowdle (no strangers to the found footage genre, having worked on both 2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes and the American remake of REC, Quarantine, in 2008) try their hand at employing the catacombs and their atmospheric mixture of Dantesque romanticism and death allure, to create something unique in the pretty heavily saturated world of found footage horror flicks.

We follow Scarlett Marlowe, played by Perdita Weeks, an amateur historian in search of the fabled philosopher’s stone; a hunt that consumed her father up until his untimely death. She seeks out the help of her former romantic interest George, played by Ben Feldman, and rounds out her team of adventurers with the inclusion of three rebellious local experts on the uncharted parts of the catacombs, where she believes the stone to be located. As they descend deeper and deeper into the bone riddled labyrinth it soon becomes evident that something more sinister than the philosopher’s stone is lurking within the underground passageways and they may have signed up for much more than they bargained for.

As Above/So Below, has so much potential. Alchemy, the catacombs, ancient artifacts and symbology, the gates of hell, and psychological demons are all themes that tend to peak the interests of not only the most knowledgeable horror fans, but of audiences in general. Films like the Indiana Jones Trilogy (yes trilogy, as I will not acknowledge Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), The DaVinci Code, and even National Treasure, are all massively successful films that have contained many of the ideas that the Brothers Dowdle try to bring to the found footage horror genre in the film. The problem is, they seem to have lacked the restraint to simplify and focus. There are just too many tropes that the film seems to fast forward through. It can never focus on one thing long enough narratively to make it entertaining. Thematically things fly by at warp speed and the narrative alone isn’t engaging enough to keep you interested. The most interesting parts of the film occur in brief fleeting glances of visually compelling images that would be more successful and interesting if they stood alone, apart from the narrative. It’s these moments that stand out, and when you’re making a commercial horror film that should contain an entertaining narrative along with some great scare or gore sequences, a few stunning visuals can’t save the whole. Overall, As Above/So Below, is forgettable in the long run, but I’ll probably catch myself using stills from the film as a desktop background for a while.