Friday, July 24, 2015

#1,803. As Above, So Below (2014)

Directed By: John Erick Dowdle

Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge

Tag line: "The only way out is down"

Trivia: This was the first ever production that secured permission from the French government to film in the catacombs

One of the things I liked about the otherwise forgettable 2007 horror film Catacombs was its setting: the Paris Catacombs, which, filled with millions of skeletal remains, stretch for hundreds of miles beneath the city. As Above, So Below, co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, goes one better, shooting the film within the confines of the actual catacombs (Catacombs was shot in Romania, on sets designed to resemble the massive underground tomb), allowing this 2014 movie to take full advantage of what is, by nature, a very eerie locale.

Like her father before her, Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), a young alchemist, has dedicated her life to finding the fabled “Flamel Stone”, also known as the Philosopher’s Stone, a mystical item that, according to legend, holds the secret to eternal life. On a recent trip to Iran, Scarlett uncovered clues that suggest the stone is buried somewhere in the catacombs of Paris. After hooking up with a documentary filmmaker named Benji (Edwin Hodge), who she’s hired to shoot a movie about this last leg of her adventure, Scarlett tracks down former boyfriend George (Ben Feldman) in the hopes his knowledge of ancient languages will help her determine the stone’s exact whereabouts. With a trio of guides: Papillon (François Civil), Zed (Ali Marhyar), and Soixie (Marion Lambert), to show them the way, Scarlett and the others descend into the catacombs, but are they truly prepared for what the darkness has in store for them?

Shot in found-footage style, As Above, So Below gets off to a rollicking start with a sequence set in Iran, where Scarlett, working against the clock, makes an all-important discovery. Along with establishing the story, this opening introduces a level of excitement that resonates throughout the entire film. The cast also does a fine job, most notably Perdita Weeks, who’s convincing as both a scholar and an adventurer, making her the perfect “hero” for a movie of this ilk. But the real star of As Above, So Below is the Paris catacombs, which, with their narrow passageways and small tunnels piled high with human bones, enhance the tale’s inherent creepiness. Even in those scenes when nothing is lurking in the shadows, we experience a momentary feeling of dread each time the group takes off in a new direction, never knowing for sure if they’re heading towards an exit, or deeper into what’s proving to be a cavernous maze of horrors.

I definitely enjoyed As Above, So Below, though I’ll admit it’s not for everyone; those who have issues with “shaky-cam”, for example, may want to think twice before sitting down to watch it (it’s not the worst camera shaking I’ve ever seen, but it has its moments). Also, despite featuring some solid ideas, I felt the conclusion was a bit rushed (in a few minutes time, a character covers an area of ground that it initially took the group hours to navigate), and while there are a handful of effective scares (the ringing phone gave me the chills), I was expecting the movie to be more frightening than it was (in many scenes, the filmmakers favor adventure above all else). Still, As Above, So Below was an entertaining watch, and the rare glimpse it offers of the Paris Catacombs is itself worth the price of a rental.

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