AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (2014)
Starring Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro, Hamidreza Javdan, Théo Cholbi, Emy Lévy, Roger Van Hool, Olivia Csiky Trnka, Hellyette Bess, Aryan Rahimian, Samuel Aouizerate and Kaya Blocksage.
Screenplay by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated R.
As Above, So Below has found a particularly intriguing setting for it’s shaky-cam, found footage Blair Witch Project-worshipping storyline and structure, but there is not all that much else that really stands out about the film.
Underneath the city of Paris are a maze-like series of historical catacombs, sewers, caves and mass graves that have long been a morbidly popular tourist destination.
According to Wikipedia (and who would know better than Wikipedia?): “The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris, France. Located south of the former city gate (the “Barrière d’Enfer” at today’s Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuaries hold the remains of about six million people and fill a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of historical stone mines. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1874.”
Yes, that sounds like an appropriately creepy place to film a horror movie.
In fact, it seems like it would be so creepy that it deserves a better film than this one.
As Above, So Below isn’t even the only recent horror film about being lost in the Paris catacombs – there was a 2007 film called Catacombs starring Alecia Moore, a.k.a. pop star Pink. For the record, that was not a good film, either, plus the fact that it was not even filmed in the Paris catacombs, despite supposedly being set there. Catacombs was mostly filmed in Bulgaria.
As Above, So Below, on the other hand, was filmed in the actual Paris catacombs. This is both fascinating (the settings are stunning and atmospheric) and also somewhat frustrating (the dark, shakey-cam filming often does not allow you to appreciate the austere historic majesty of the place).
As usual, with this kind of film, the characters have little or no real depth, they are just superficial types needed to hang the story upon. The story – or what story there is – has a perky British modern archeologist named Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) coming to believe that she has figured out how to find a magical historic artifact called “The Philosopher’s Stone” which had obsessed her father until he committed suicide.
She puts together a crew to explore the catacombs: her stoic director Benji (Edwin Hodge), three French explorers (François Civil, Marion Lambert and Ali Marhyar) and an old American friend named George (Ben Feldman of Drop Dead Diva and the upcoming series A to Z). George is a translator and keeps insisting that he is not going to go on the search the catacombs – his brother drowned in a cave accident when he was a kid – but Scarlett keeps ignoring his protestations and pressuring him to come.
Once they get into the catacombs, they quickly get lost and start seeing dead people from their pasts lingering around. As they descend deeper and deeper, they find themselves in more danger.
There are no real surprises in As Above, So Below, other than the fact that one character who would seem like an obvious stereotypical early horror film victim actually survives the whole ordeal.
The story often makes little sense. Why was Scarlett able to heal a severely injured member of her crew with the magic stone when it is later revealed that she had the wrong one? Who was that coven of Satanist women that were briefly exposed and then never mentioned again? And why was one of them topless? Why do the catacombs have the power to bring people and things from the past back to life so that everyone can see them? And what is the deal with the whole mirror image world?
Honestly, though, the film would have been bearable if not for the tired usage of shakey cam. It’s often hard to figure out what is going on during As Above, So Below, simply because of the murky and choppy visuals. Then eventually it hits you – you don’t really care all that much what is going on. At that point, As Above, So Below has lost you.
Jay S. Jacobs