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 few things I liked about the otherwise forgettable 2007 horror film Catacombs was its setting, i.e. - the Paris Catacombs. Littered with millions of skeletal remains, the centuries-old catacombs stretch for hundreds of miles beneath the city.

Co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, As Above, So Below goes one better than Catacombs by staging its story within the confines of the actual catacombs (the earlier movie was shot in Romania, on sets designed to resemble the massive underground tomb). In doing so, this 2014 movie ups the ante by to taking full advantage of what, by its very nature, is an 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 suggested the stone is buried somewhere in the catacombs of Paris. 

Hooking up with documentary filmmaker Benji (Edwin Hodge), who she hired to shoot a movie about this last leg of her adventure, Scarlett next tracks down her former boyfriend George (Ben Feldman) in the hopes his knowledge of ancient languages will help her locate 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 builds a level of excitement that will remain throughout the film. The cast also does a fine job, especially Perdita Weeks, who is convincing as both a scholar and an adventurer, thus making her Scarlett the perfect “hero” for a movie of this ilk. 

The real star of As Above, So Below, however, are 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 where nothing is lurking in the shadows, we experience a momentary feeling of dread when 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, a place that plays on their deepest fears, as if it can read their minds and peer into their souls..

I enjoyed As Above, So Below, though I’ll admit it won't be 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). I also felt the conclusion, though interesting, was a bit rushed (in a few minutes time, a character covers an area that it initially took the group hours to navigate). And while there are a handful of effective scares (a ringing phone heard in the distance gave me the chills), I was expecting the movie to be more frightening than it was, with the filmmakers instead favoring adventure above all else. 

That said, As Above, So Below is still an entertaining watch, and the rare glimpse it offers into the Paris Catacombs is itself worth the price of admission.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

The trailer looks pretty good.