Movie Review - As Above, So Below
On paper, As Above, So Below, the newest release from the Dowdle Brothers (Quarantine, The Poughkeepsie Tapes) seems to be one of the more promising looking horror films of the year. It combines elements of some of the best indie films of the last ten years and places them against possibly the most bad-ass setting of any horror movie, ever: The Catacombs of Paris. The movie blends elements of the supernatural with extreme claustrophobia into one ambitious found footage film. Unfortunately, it appears that all of those plot devices (and the best backdrop in history) couldn't save this movie from it's own cardinal sin: making a very simple story seem overly complicated, and then trying to cram it into ninety minutes. I applaud the film makers for the effort, it is beautifully shot and I see how this could have been a much better if not for inconsistencies in the story that only served as a distraction. I would approach this one with caution.
The film begins with Scarlett, a mid twenty something girl who is fluent in multiple dead languages, an experienced treasure hunter a la Indiana Jones, and a black belt in Krav Maga. She is on a bus somewhere in the Middle East, en route to search an ancient crypt that is about to be demolished. She is searching for clues to the location of an artifact known as the Philosopher's Stone. After barely escaping with her life, Scarlett travels to Paris to continue her father's work in attempting to locate the famed treasure. There she enlists the help of her camera man Benji, an ex boyfriend named George, and three young French explorers who are familiar with the layout of the catacombs. They head into the underground maze through a secret exit in an abandoned subway tunnel, and begin to explore. But it isn't long before the group becomes hopelessly lost, and as they descend deeper and deeper into the tunnels they begin to wonder if they may actually be crossing into the gates of hell.
The acting in the film is actually quite good, especially from the extremely charming Perdita Weeks as Scarlett. Though it wasn't just her, there really aren't any weak links in the chain. And so, with a strong leading lady, solid performances from the whole cast, and one of scariest locations on earth, what is it about this film that turned me off? The story, and the fact that they left far too many plot lines are left unexplained. For example, the character of George has a back story about his younger brother drowning when they were young, and while in the catacombs he believes he sees his brother in a pool of water. Makes sense. But where George, Scarlett, and Papillon have some exposition into their past, the same is not true of Benji, Siouxie, and Zed. So when their fates are revealed, we are left wondering how that connects with their past transgressions, and never get any answers. In addition, who or what was the creepy girl outside the nightclub? What gives with the choir of evil ladies near the entrance? And what is the purpose of the statues?
So, even though there are elements of this film that worked, there are far too many of these lingering plot holes for me to say I enjoyed myself. In fact, for me the only real scare in the film came when Benji gets stuck in a narrow tunnel and begins to panic. It is reminiscent of one of the stand out moments from the absolutely brilliant film The Descent. Would I say I hated the film? No. I just found it to be disappointing. I think the concept, cast, director and location were perfect. I just didn't think the narrative fit the action as well as I would have hoped. Cheers.