As Above, So Below (2014) – Review

Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Written by Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle
Starring Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge
 
When a team of explorers ventures into the catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead.
 

John Erick Dowdle and younger brother Drew appear to have a liking for confinement and escape. If you take a quick scan of their CVs, you can see the clues. Quarantine and it’s sequel, Devil, this grubbing about in the underbelly of Paris and the upcoming Pierce Brosnan project, The Coup, all concentrate on these themes. Most of their characters are stricken, often innocent and desperate individuals, who are faced with what seem to be insurmountable odds at the worst possible moment.

So let’s therefore just take it as a given that this is going to have much the same kind of feel and you won’t go far wrong. We are introduced to Scarlett (Weeks), a young, pretty and impossibly smart urban archeologist, with a plum in her mouth that will make any red blooded male think immediately of Lara Croft, as she begins to record a documentary about her search for ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ (don’t get carried away Potter fans, not that one) which is believed, through extensive and highly dangerous location work in Iran, to be hidden somewhere in the catacombs under the French capital where four million dead folks are said to reside. The dead centre of Europe, if you like.

Given that our heroine is as smart as the combined noggins of a Tefal factory (look it up, youngsters) you might wonder what she is doing putting herself in harms way so foolishly and without thought for her own well-being and of those she drags along with her. Well, she’s determined too. Altogether, she’s just a bit too focused for us Wotsit (other cheese flavoured corn based snacks are available) ingesting couch potatoes and this makes us a tad uncomfortable, frankly. Even her closest friend, George (Ben Feldman), who inexplicably breaks into places and ‘fixes things’, thinks the whole idea of creeping about in the Parisian underworld is maybe just a bit questionable. He does it anyway, quite by accident maybe, but nonetheless, there you are. This is the command that this driven young woman has over her friends and peers. It’s probably what’s got her this far, all told.

She’s not bright enough to spot impending doom when it’s staring at her in the face, however, as happens on numerous occasions. Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun for the audience if the cast looked down a ruddy big hole with apparently no bottom to it, then decide against going down it in favour of a nice cup of tea at home. Still, can’t writers start to make their characters believably stupid? Would it be too much to ask?

The GoPro practical presentation hadn’t gone quite as planned

Well here, apparently, it is. Even before the assembled group of tomb raiders, cameramen and their unsuspecting guides (oxymoron?) get into the real nitty gritty of the catacombs, a stupendous amount of foolishness has already occurred. And thank goodness, for reasons previously mentioned. After everyone in the party has safely got themselves stuck in the catacombs with no feasible means of escape, then the weirdness can truly begin.

Loosely based around the Hermetic teachings, As Above, So Below tries to suggest that our intrepid adventurers are on an unsuspecting visit to Hades, not least referenced by the ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’ scene as they crawl on the bellies into the darkness. The search takes the party deeper and deeper into the catacombs where they eventually come across what they think is the reward for their efforts, but really, this is only the start of their adventure, and for some the ride won’t last much longer, as things start to get truly odd indeed.

All of the characters seem to be carrying round some guilty emotional baggage with them and whatever is lurking in the shadows around every nook and cranny seems to know exactly what that baggage is, intent on using it to send our explorers quietly insane. The further they go, the more claustrophobic their environment appears until they begin to find themselves going over old ground. Or is it?

The performances from the cast are suitably alarming for the most part and as I’ve said before, just how much acting talent does it require to run around screaming your head off as if Satan himself is chasing you. Originality is at a premium as the likes of Descent did this type of thing much better and with spades more atmosphere and tension. If you’re in any way agoraphobic, then you might want to think twice about seeing this, however, as there are alot of tight squeezes and confined spaces that will make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat. For the gore-hounds, there is little, if anything, to speak of and the fifteen certificate reflects this lack of real, visceral horror.

With a couple of jump-scares late on that attempt to ramp up the tension on a flagging vehicle that doesn’t engage the viewer on a personal level throughout, this is horror cannon fodder that you will be most likely to forget about the minute you leave the cinema. It’s nod to Hermetic legend is nominal and fleeting and the finale will make you wonder just why you bothered. Whilst the conclusion makes perfect sense, it fails to satisfy. Altogether, one to avoid hurrying to see, as it will probably leave you cold and like our cast, a little bit lost.

 

 

 
 
 
 

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