- on Friday, 05 September 2014 17:19
- by Frank Wilkins
With more corpses buried underneath its streets than there are people currently living above ground, the city of Paris seems like the perfect setting for As Above, So Below, a rambunctious little horror film that hopes to turn the labyrinth of catacombs and tunnels running beneath the city of three million into an unopened closet housing our worst fears.
But despite the seemingly perfect horror setting, director/writer John Erick Dowdle and co-writer brother Drew (the guys who brought us the effectively creepy The Poughkeepsie Tapes), are never quite able to make their movie as smart as its title may suggest. Instead, As Above, So Below is just a loud, nauseating cacophony of noise and a mindless blur of vomit-inducing movement.
The film opens as we meet rebellious archaeologist Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), a modern-day combination of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, as she is continuing her father’s mission to discover the location of the ancient Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary artifact that is said to turn metal into gold and grant immortality to its holder.
Via a rushed sequence of The Davinci Code-like puzzles and cryptic messages (only not nearly as smart), Scarlett and her ex-partner and now reluctant colleague George (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman), learn that the powerful stone lies beneath the streets of Paris somewhere in the endless twist of catacombs that were used in the late eighteenth century when Louis XVI, to ease the crowding of cemeteries, relocated some six million corpses.
Before traversing the mostly-unexplored maze, Scarlett, Ben, and their claustrophobic camera-man Benji (Edwin Hodge) enlist the help of a mysterious trio of local urban explorers to lead them into the extensive bone-filled network beneath the city. As they plunge deeper and deeper into the morass, each in the group is forced to face their inner-most secrets in a place where the line between madness and sanity becomes blurred.
Nearly every one of the characters sports a GoPro camera on their miner’s helmet which is intended to ramp up the pitch-black eeriness by lending the film a guerrilla-style found-footage effect. But since the film isn’t couched in the premise of a lost expedition’s video leftovers, the effect has no relevance here and only serves to muddy the proceedings with jerky movements and digital blotches. It’s sometimes so bad and so difficult to watch, we can’t even tell what’s happening amongst the ear-splitting screams and sudden cuts to pure darkness. We have The Blair Witch Project to blame for mainstreaming the effect, but at least in that film - and even later in Cloverfield - its use made sense in the context of the plot. Some fifteen years on, can we please retire the shaky cam?
Another of the film’s significant shortcomings lies with its undeveloped cast of cardboard characters. Though the Dowdles have in the past with films like Quarantine and 2010’s Devil (the latter of which relied almost entirely on well-rounded characters), displayed an understanding of character over effect, in As Above, So Below that proclivity is nowhere to be found. With so many unrecognizable dirty-faced characters we’ve hardly had a chance to meet, it becomes much easier to care about no one. And that’s a death sentence to a film based almost entirely on its characters.
With a perfectly formulated setting and a brilliant plot primed to explore those creepy nether regions that drift between reality and imagination, As Above, So Below should have been a creepy little horror gem. But all that terrifying atmosphere and the numerous “gotcha” shots are wasted by poor writing and even less effective camera work. What a shame.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout
Runtime: 93 mins
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Writer: Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle
Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge
Tagline: The only way out is down.
Memorable Movie Quote: "How are we supposed to get 370 feet into the Earth?"
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Official Site: http://www.asabovesobelowmovie.com/
Release Date: August 29, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: December 2, 2014.
Synopsis: 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.
Available on Blu-ray - December 2, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian SDH, Swedish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; French: DTS 5.1; French (Canada): DTS 5.1; German: DTS 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1; Italian: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; iTunes digital copy; DVD copy; BD-Live
Region Encoding: A
As Above, So Below arrives from Universal Studios Home Entertainment and features a 1080p AVC encoded video and lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio. Because this is a found footage film, the video rarely resembles high definition/film. This is by design, of course. As with any found footage flick, there are a handful of shots that look very good and reveal discerning levels of detail and dimension. When appropriate colors are natural, contrast is well balanced and black levels are notable. Shadow detail is quite good as depth of field in the plethora of low level sequences is gratifying. The surround sound mix features an immersive array of well-placed sound effects that accentuate the film’s thematic tone and certainly makes this film more enjoyable.
Well, there is one 3 minute extra. Doesn’t really do much except give us a brief glimpse at the making of the film. A bonus DVD and Digital HD copy of the film are both provided.
- Inside As Above, So Below (3 min)