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As Above, So Below (2014)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Genres / Traits:
Horror, Psychological Thriller, Supernatural Horror, Cinéma Vérité
Director:
John Erick Dowdle John Erick Dowdle
Starring:
Perdita Weeks Perdita Weeks
Ben Feldman Ben Feldman
Edwin Hodge Edwin Hodge
François Civil François Civil
Marion Lambert Marion Lambert

6.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: February 11, 2016
You know, I've always been amazed that the Catacombs of Paris aren't used more in horror movies. Between the claustrophobia and the terrifying aesthetic of walls made of human bones, it seems the perfect setting for some other-worldly mayhem. Unfortunately, after As Above, So Below, studios may not be willing to return beneath the City of Lights.

Scarlett Marlow's entire life has been focused on continuing her father's search for the Flamel Stone, a philosopher's stone that can turn lead to goal and grant eternal life. While the search eventually led to his suicide, that hasn't dissuaded her. In the name of her inherited endeavor, she has multiple degrees, speaks six languages and is a black belt in Krav Maga. While risking life and limb by trespassing through some caves in Iran, she discovers the Rose Key. This artifact is a giant bull statue covered in the translation for the riddle revealing the location of the stone on Flammel's tombstone. Unfortunately, the translations are in Aramaic, which is not on Scarlett's list of fluent languages, but her friend George does. Of course, George is none too happy to see Scarlett again considering the last time they were in search of the stone he ended up in a Turkish prison. Still, she's able to convince him to translate the tomb, and damned if they don't find the cavern hidden deep in the catacombs, a massive grave beneath the city of Paris. Along with their camera man, Benji, they hire the services of local spelunker Papillon, who's familiar with the off-limits areas of the catacombs and continue their search, closer than they've ever been before. This search, however, is leading them right to the very Gates of Hell.

Here's a movie that wants to be so much deeper than it is. Our film makers had this grandiose idea about the powers of Hell playing on your own guilt to provide the keys to their downfall. Not your past sins, mind, but your guilt. Naturally, they couldn't hold it together. There's something disturbing about Hell only punishing people who actually feel as if they've sinned. So the religious zealots who have murdered dozens in the name of their God are in no danger, but the guy suffering survivor's guilt for a car accident that claimed a friend's life is tormented. It's a view of Hell that isn't taken often, and there's a good reason for that. Even though the idea has its logic problems, they could have done something worthwhile with that. That'd be a bit too deep for the stupid kids of today though, so we had to throw a few external antagonists in there too in the form of demons and a violent avatar of their friend. It makes zero sense. Hell, even the the ancient poem that explains the plot, a cliche in and of itself, translates from Aramaic to rhyming modern English for some reason. It's a minor irksome thing sure, but it sure sets the tone for the garbage that's to come.

I know I've said it before, but I truly despise the recent cinema verite explosion. It's not a bad technique in and of itself, but filmmakers just don't seem to understand that it only works with low-action, slow-burn films. Movies like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity worked so well because they provided the immersion but built the foundation out of tension and suspense. Unfortunately, your common movie-going asshole nowadays have the attention span of a twelve year old, and filmmakers are so terrified of their movies being described as "boring" and "nothing happens"; complaints that are, in fact, commonly hurled in those two movies' direction. Still, they know the found footage thing is in right now, so they peddle it out while simultaneously beefing up the action. The result is a camera whipping all over the place, and the viewer has absolutely no idea what the hell is going on. Sure enough, it's even more out of control here. Not only do the scenes take place in the darkness of the Catacombs, but now there's four different cameras that switch in and out with no rhyme or reason. Not only can you not follow what's going on, but you never even know which characters are on screen.

For all it's problems, one thing I can't complain about is the actors. In the lead role, Perdita Weekes tempered the hyper focused Scarlett quite well. Nine times out of ten, these types of characters tend to be callous pricks who refuse to let any bit of human feelings stand in the way of their personal crusade. While there's no question that her quest comes before her relationships, she knows she's wrong, and certainly feels guilty about it. True to form, our filmmakers skips this point completely, even though it's a movie based on people being tormented by their guilt. As her guide, Papillon, François Civil also brings a multi-faceted character to life. He's absolutely confident in his abilities, but more than a little superstitious of the areas Scarlett is asking him to take her to. The rest of their little group aren't worth mentioning individually, but I didn't have a problem with any of their performances.

It's a shame how often people come up with deep, intelligent concepts, but just aren't deep or intelligent enough themselves to actually make them work. Skip this one. 4/10.
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