As Above, So Below

“I’m on a highway to hell!!” Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman and Edwin Hodge star in As Above, So Below.

As Above So BelowCast of Characters:
Scarlet Marlowe – Perdita Weeks
George – Ben Feldman
Benji – Edwin Hodge
Papillion – Francois Civil

Director – John Erick Dowdle
Screenplay – Drew Dowdle & John Erick Dowdle
Producer – Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Drew Dowdle & Patrick Aiello
Rated R bloody violence/terror, and language throughout

Beneath the streets of Paris lie miles of twisting catacombs, the eternal resting place of countless souls. When a team of explorers, Scarlet Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), George (Ben Feldman) and cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge), decide to venture down into that hallowed and sacred city of the dead – and, of course, why not? – they discover a secret that was meant to be hidden – a darkness that reveals everyone’s personal demons that haunt them.

Or you can just simply call it hell.

I feel inclined to slap a disclaimer to this film. If you’re not into horror or found-footage films and have an extreme case of claustrophobia, you will not like this movie.

So we’re now in the tail end of August, entering September. We’re only a month away from Oscar/fall-winter blockbuster season, but first we have to get through September, which is essentially the January-February of the fall.

When I first saw the trailer for this, I rolled my eyes. Yay! Another found-footage horror film – the third in just this year alone. That’s exactly what we need! Found-footage gimmick aside, though, the idea of using claustrophobia as a tension device intrigued me. I remember when The Descent came out nearly a decade ago. I knew nothing of it, but went to see it out of curiosity and walked out loving that film. If you haven’t seen that film, do so. Maybe then there would be hope for As Above, So Below?

Well, not quite, but to this film’s credit, it’s not the awful film I was expecting it to be. Then again, when your expectations are lower than the epicenter of hell these poor, unfortunate souls find themselves in, they’re not that hard to beat.

Don’t get me wrong. This film has a mile’s worth of problems, starting with the throwaway script from director John Erick Dowdle and his brother Drew. The film opens with an unnecessary segment that seems like a completely different movie, jumps scares are relied on more than they need to be, and the characters are idiots. At some point, you wonder if the light bulb will click on in any of them and let them realize that perhaps going further down into the Catacombs isn’t the best way to get out. When a rock ceiling above them begins to crack, one of them, for whatever reason, has to ask, “Is this bad?”

“I’m a little fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean bad?” – Dr. Peter Venkman

I will give credit to one of the guys who reads a rock inscription from Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”, and then goes, “Yeah… I’m not going in there.” Good job. You’re starting to take a hint.

But then he just ends up going in there anyway.

The first half comes with an overstuffed mythology revolving around main character Scarlet, who’s searching for the lost Philosopher’s Stone, an artifact that drove her father mad and caused him to commit suicide. My guess is the Dowdle brothers were aiming for an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Blair Witch Project crossover, but the characters are so one-dimensional there’s no intrigue or sense of adventure to the mythology and boredom begins to set in. Part of what made The Descent so great was that the first half hour was spent setting up these characters and creating relationships between them that felt real, so when things did go downhill, you felt for them and were pulling for them to survive.

Then the second half of the film shows up, and I gotta say, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t creeped out. Where the Dowdle brothers fail in delivering a decent script, they do a not too shabby job at creating a suspenseful atmosphere. The camera work (capitalizing on the fear of claustrophobia) and use of sound for a found-footage film is effective, and despite the annoying jump scares, there are some genuinely creepy scares that aim to unnerve you more than just get a quick jump by running out and screaming at you. Although, the characters are flat and one-dimensional, the performances are actually solid.

In the end, though, there’s still nothing special about this film. The Dowdles know what is required as far as horror film beats and a chilling atmosphere go, but like their other not horrible yet nothing spectacular films The Poughkeepsie Tapes and Quarantine (a remake of the Spanish film Rec), nothing stands out here.

From a technical standpoint, As Above, So Below is effectively made and features some genuine scares and good performances. However, for one effective half, there’s another dumb, tedious half, centering on a bloated mythology and dull character setups, that accompanies it. Horror junkies may get a kick out of this, and overall it’s not the worst horror film I’ve ever seen. In fact, to its credit, it’s not even the worst horror film I’ve seen this year.

I give As Above, So Below a C (★★½).

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