As Above, So Below (2014)

SO, it was a lazy pre-Statutory Holiday Thursday night in our household and we had just finished watching ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990); an eerie psychological-horror flick that I HIGHLY recommend. My girlfriend enjoyed it (as best as I can tell), but wound up with an appetite for a more…straight forward…thriller. After sifting through our collection of ‘Still Have to Watch’ flicks, we came across this one.
When it was first released in theatre’s, I recall hearing mixed reviews, but nothing that came out as absolutely hating this Paris-based found-footage movie…at least, not that I had read. So we turned the lights down low and fired it up.
The flick opens (via head-mounted digital cam footage) with ‘Scarlett’ (Perdita Weeks), a seemingly too young archaeologist, who is hell-bent on infiltrating a mysterious tunnel system somewhere in Iran. With the help of an old, Arab accomplice, she locates a hidden chamber (while armed guards patrol and sirens wail in the distance) that contains a large black statue covered in ancient markings, of some significance. After narrowly escaping, ‘Scarlett’ and her stereotypically black cameraman ‘Benji’ (Edwin Hodge) make their way to the city of Paris (France, not Texas) to follow up on information gleaned from her Iranian adventure. The two then seek out a former colleague named ‘George’ (Ben Feldman), a rogue scholar (who happens to be conveniently afraid of caves), who’s current fixation lies with illegally entering historic sites and…fixing them? We are introduced to him as he repairs a centuries-old clock tower and I couldn’t help but to wonder just how dangerous such an act would be, as it would’ve been hilarious if, instead of a scene where they listen in wonder to the first sounds of the bells in 500 or so years, we get a sequence of sheer pandemonium as disuse has rendered the tower unstable and the machinations of the bell being launched unceremoniously back into operation causes the entire structure to come crumbling violently down into the streets of Paris. But I digress. So, figuring that the legendary catacombs beneath the streets of the city are their best bet to follow the clues they’ve discerned from ‘Scarlett’s previous research, they join a tour of the dark and dirty maze of crypts. As they plan their Mission: Impossible-like scheme, a strange figure they come across (never explained) mentions a name, ‘Papillion’…before vanishing before their eyes. Not freaking out (as most normal humans would) they decide to locate this ‘Papillion’ person, who they eventually find in a darkened discotheque. ‘Papillion’ (Francois Civil) is an urban adventurer / tagger who seems to have the inside skinny on the areas of the catacombs NOT covered in the tour, who agrees to guide the ‘expedition’, in exchange for half of the treasure rumored to be contained in the undiscovered area. With the addition of two of ‘Papillion’s partners, ‘Zed’ (Ali Mahyar) and ‘Souxie’ (Marion Lambert), the group descends into the darkness. Soon after finding the hidden passage, shit starts to get weird.
‘As Above, So Below’ is not a bad entry into the horror genre. It does have some legitimately creepy moments and the fact that it’s the first film production to be granted access to the miles of narrow, bone-packed tunnels that run below Paris add to its positive credentials. That being said, there are certainly some things that could’ve benefited from some improvement. Chief among those would be the exclusive use of hand-held footage. I understand the allure of ‘found-footage’, as history has more than proven that it’s a good, semi-reliable way for lower-budget productions to potentially make back their modest budgets…and then some (just look at what happened with ‘The Blair Witch Project’!). I can handle the shakey, hectic mix of footage and sound, but not everyone can. When the credits finally rolled, my girlfriend groaned and turned away from the screen, quietly complaining of nausea. This really didn’t surprise me, as there’s a LOT of footage here that swings and sweeps and runs and falls at high speed, accompanied by the sounds of screaming and supernatural terror. It’s disorienting, which I imagine was completely purposeful, as the narrative begins to take on a confusing, ‘mind-bending’ flavor (that reminded me of ‘Oculus’ (2013), for some reason), as the hapless crew unwisely descend further and further down into our apparently haunted planet. The filmmakers seemed a little ‘gun shy’ when it came to the scares and back-story as well, as MANY times, bizarre spectral happenings rear their ugly heads, with no explanation given as to their reason or purpose. Like the bug-eyed, white-clad chick we creepily glimpse in the nightclub…only to encounter again deep in the tunnels leading a strange chanting ritual, in a chamber in the darkness. Do we ever find out her story? Nope. Or the tall, hooded figure (with the white face of what looked like a deformed baby) that we see seated on a wooden throne in another chamber? Any details? Nope. Not even when it makes a half-ass’d attempt to pursue our heroes. How about the 1930’s style telephone that they find after following its echoing ringing? Anything significant? Again…nope. I just mentioned ‘half-ass’d attempt to pursue’. This seemed to be a theme to this flick, as a few times, we know that the characters are being chased by…something, only to have that chase just…end. There’s a sequence where the remains of the group are racing blindly through the darkness and the camera from the last character swings around and, for a split second, we glimpse a horde of dark cloaked, white-faced monsters hot on their heels that…just vanish as soon as a dead-end is reached. Our heroes were poring over their map and I wondered aloud “Where the hell did the creatures go?!!” Only moments before, the gang of beasts had been in hot pursuit and suddenly our main characters have time for a quick break to get their bearings. We shook our heads in disbelief at that one. There’s another sequence that was unintentionally hilarious, as (SPOILER) ‘George’ is chomped in the neck by something nasty and unexpected…and is essentially dying. Having realized that they left the means with which to save him WAY far behind, through the Tunnels of Terror, ‘Scarlett’ leaps into ‘First Person Shooter’ mode and frantically races through the darkness, back the way they came. As we watch her PoV, a grey zombie-monster abruptly lurches out of the shadows at her. Without missing a beat, ‘Scarlett’ comically belts the creature square in the face and races on. Acquiring what they need, she ‘about-faces’ and heads back the way she came. Like deja vu, the grey zombie-monster lurches out of the shadows…and is punched right in the face all over again! And she then has time to get herself situated on their fixed climbing ropes and she is not once attacked by the horror creature that she so aptly humiliated…twice! Then, after some more hectic shenanigans in the dark, they pop out of a man-hole and…nothing. That’s pretty much it. It felt like the flick should’ve ended on a much darker ‘twist’, with terror they’ve unleashed spilling out to destroy their lives. Or Paris. Or the whole damn world!
All in all, ‘As Above, So Below’ is a flawed, but entertaining supernatural horror flick. It does take elements that we’ve seen in other, better movies ( 2005’s ‘The Descent’ instantly comes to mind) and tries to inject them into a unique setting (seeing the actual catacombs of Paris, on film, is admittedly pretty cool). The actors do what they need to do, to service the half-baked story and the movie probably would’ve better served if the found-footage angle was greatly diminished (perhaps a 50 / 50 split of ACTUAL movie vs found-footage?). I enjoyed a lot of what I saw, but I also clearly saw the areas where the movie was obviously lacking. You could do worse, as 93 minute time-wasters go…but you could also do better.

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