August 31, 2014

Movie Review: As Above, So Below

I remember first seeing the trailer for As Above, So Below and thinking it actually looked pretty good. The catacombs under Paris seem like a great location to set a horror film. Just thinking about it conjures up all manner of crazy ideas and imagery. Just think about being underneath an old city like Paris and being surrounded by the skeletons of millions of people, add in the patterns made with the bones and just the creepy idea of bone lined tunnels and you cannot help but get a little shiver. So, the fact that we got a movie set there is interesting in and of itself. Now, while I do not completely hate the movie, I so wish that it were better.

The movie was co-written by John Erick and Drew Dowdle and directed by John Erick Dowdle. The names may sound familiar, they are behind such films as the not yet released The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine, and Devil. After taking a break from the found footage style with Devil, John Erick returns with his brother to the style they used in Quarantine to tell the tale of the search for the Philosopher's stone (no, not the Harry Potter movie), believed to be in the catacombs.

At the center of the story is Scarlet (Perdita Weeks), a young professor who is continuing her father's studies into alchemy and the search for the stone. She also happens to be a black belt in krav maga, a fact that never actually comes into play, sadly. Anyway, she believes she has a lead to where the stone is, buried deep in the catacombs, in a secret chamber crafted by a long dead alchemist. The only problem is that she doesn't know much about the catacombs and needs a guide.

Trailed by a documentary cameraman, Benji (Edwin Hodge), and an unwilling friend, George (Ben Feldman), Scarlet finds a guide team, led by Papillon (Francois Civil) and heads into the depths. The deeper they go, the weirder things get. It gets a little nonsensical as we find rooms to be reversed from where they just were, the deep rooted fears of the group are pulled out and found in the depths, until we reach a manic conclusion as our dwindling team race to find a way to survive and a way out.

I found the idea to be compelling, and the authenticity of location (they were allowed to shoot deep into the catacombs, in areas where no access had been granted before) to be fascinating. The problem is that I was left flat. The movie falls into a lot of the traps that found footage has, what with the long periods of exposition followed by 10-15 minutes of what just happened? I am not against the style and think that it can be used very effectively, but with this previously untapped location and the possibilities it brings, I think a more traditional and involved story telling technique would have been better. This is especially true when we get to the climax and it looks like like some just dumped the camera down a hole, Don't expect to see anything.

I did find the search for the stone interesting, but the things that happen to the explorers that we see is just not enough for me. I am not saying that everything needs to be explained, but lets dig a little deeper into these things we see. I am sure you have seen the trailer and see the burning car or the piano? That is what we get, we see it, we get somebody making a comment about it, then it is gone. To be fair, what we get is competently executed, it just feels like wasted potential. It feels a bit like a mix of The Descent and Cube.

There were so many opportunities to make this seriously creepy and weird. Consider we already know the location (which is a great launching point), add in the allusions to the gates of hell (numerous times), and then toss in the creepy chanters, and what looks like a Templar Knight lying on a slab, the possibilities are endless. What if this was made by one of those insane Italian directors of the 70's and 80's? Take away the found footage aspect and make use of the elements that are already there, and this could have been a seriously messed up movie.

In the end, As Above, So Below is not awful, but for the oddness it has, it ends up being rather pedestrian. It is all build up and no payoff. A catacomb full of missed opportunity for real horror and weirdness.

Mildly Recommended.

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