As Above, So Below is a found-footage tale chronicling a group of young explorers who descend deep into the bone-infested catacombs beneath Paris in search of treasure and historical artifacts. For a found-footage movie, it’s not too bad, with some real heart-stopping moments and genuine shock. It’s a little light on plot, despite the initial premise, but the frights are there.
Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a student of some acclaim (degrees in archaeology and chemistry, multiple languages spoken, black belt in something or other) whose late father had been on the trail of the elusive (and probably mythical) Philosopher’s Stone, which was purported to turn base metals into gold. Scarlett has picked up where her father left off and believes that the stone itself is deep within the skull-lined Parisian maze. She and her friend/cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge) go to one of Scarlett’s former comrades-in-arms, George (Patrick Dempsey lookalike Ben Feldman), because he can read Aramaic, which is important for this mission. Finally, she locates someone who can bring them down to the hidden, off-limits parts of the tunnels, a man named Papillon (François Civil), who himself has a crew — Souxie (Marion Lambert) and Zed (Ali Marhyar).
But since As Above, So Below isn’t merely a movie about finding hidden treasure, the trouble they run into is more of the supernatural type. They hear things. They see things. They get lost. There are cave-ins. But above all else, each of the explorers is confronted by a buried incident in his or her past — tragedies in which our heroes/heroines lost someone close and consequently blame themselves for the loss. Faces and voices appear and disappear. And yet the group has little choice but to press on, as is often the case in these claustrophobic movies. They can’t go back, so further downward they press.
I was reminded (frequently) of movies like “The Descent,” in which the lighting was minimal for the sake of realism and action often occurred just slightly off camera, thus forcing the camera-wearer to swivel his head quickly to see what’s going on. This can lead to phantom whiplash on the part of the viewer, so you’ve been properly warned. Even so, I did like the in-your-face look and feel to each scene. Writers/brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle had the neat idea of putting cameras on the headlamps of some — but not all — of the spelunkers. This gives the viewer multiple perspectives on a rapidly escalating situation.
So for the most part, we have ourselves a half-decent thriller. I liked the historical aspect of it, although (pardon the pun) it wasn’t fully explored. And Perdita Weeks is excellent in the lead, as neither a shrinking violet nor a silly know-it-all. I also liked the atmosphere of impending dread looming around every corner. The film was quite effective at portraying how quickly madness can overcome even the most steely of personalities. The downside of the found-footage genre, though, is that it’s often hard to tell what’s going on during an action scene — who’s fighting whom? What came out of the shadows?
The ending, however, is preposterous and a little too by-the-book for me. It’s an expected ending, so long as one expects something that’s really impossible. It’s the sort of ending that’ll insult your intelligence twelve-fold. And that, unfortunately, prevents As Above, So Below from being the solid entertainment trip it started out as.