I walked into “As Above, So Below” expecting it to be one of the worst movies I would ever see. Fully prepped with a healthy sense of sarcastic superiority and what must have been nearly a gallon of Hi-C Fruit Punch, I sat through the first half hour or so of the movie entirely unimpressed with what seemed to be a mix between “National Treasure” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” riddled with messy foreshadowing and clichéd attempts at character development.
The film centers around archaeologist-turned-explorer Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) and her quest for the Philosopher’s Stone and, through its discovery, the verification of the work of her late father. It begins with a wild escapade into a series of caves in Iran set to explode at any second in the hopes of finding the Rose Key (which looks surprisingly like Adam Driver with bullhorns). This artifact allows her, with the help of her former colleague/love interest, George (Ben Feldman), to decipher the directions to the hiding spot of the Philosopher’s Stone alchemist Nicolas Flamel left on his own gravestone. The stone’s recovery requires them to descend into the restricted portion of the Parisian Catacombs into an “invisible chamber” yet to be discovered and mapped, 370.5 feet below the surface.
After rolling my eyes through the entire exposition of the movie, my snarky attitude was replaced with pure terror the second that Scarlett, George, and their ragtag team of explorers (each with their own headlamp/pin camera) entered the catacombs.
The film’s combination of classic jump-out-at-you scares with psychological horrors and a surprisingly cerebral plot line which forces moviegoers to keep up with Flamel’s clues kept the terror fresh and vulnerable as its audience was bombarded with atrocity after atrocity. The trauma culminated in the last 20 or so minutes of the movie, where the explorers were forced to “crawl on their bellies” into hell and achieve retribution for their past guilts in order to maintain any hope of escape.
This was where the movie started to fall apart. All of the plot lines started at the entrance into the catacombs, from dead little brothers to alchemy to a seemingly unnecessary love story, needed to reach denouement. This left viewers mixed up in a mess of hastily thrown together resolutions. This, combined with creatures jumping out at every turn, made it nearly impossible to understand any one of the plot lines completely, though each was individually quite compelling, if poorly developed.
In addition, the film failed to fully develop any characters other than Scarlett and her love interest, George, instead using them as devices for keeping the documentary-style footage focused on the two primary characters. I struggled throughout the end of the film to care at all if any characters besides Scarlett and George made it out alive.
Despite the many plot holes, “As Above, So Below” was one of the most impressive mainstream horror films I have ever seen. Director John Erick Dowdle somehow managed to take one of the most tired genres of horror films, found footage, and revive it with his interesting composition and camera placement, staying true to the style while keeping the thrills fresh and cinematically sound. However, with the many plot lines that need to be followed, I had to go back to see the film a second time to actually pick up on its many twists and turns through my veil of sheer horror.
Having gone into the film expecting to absolutely loathe it, “As Above, So Below” left me, a person generally cynical about horror movies, genuinely surprised and impressed as it far exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Not only did I jump at all of the expected moments in the room, I found myself contemplating all that had happened long after I left the theater. It’s easily one of the most traumatizing films I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, I won’t be taking a tour of the Parisian Catacombs in the near future. Or ever.
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