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As Above, So Below – 6


Director – John Erick Dowdle

Cast – Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I do not believe I have been more excited for a horror film this year than for As Above, So Below. Back in April I first viewed the film’s trailer and was left in awe over the immense potential showcased in only a few minutes of time. What had me so stoked for this film was that it involved one of the spookiest places on Earth, the Catacombs. Containing the bones of 6 million people, the underground labyrinth of human remains has been used before in the genre but I am sad to say that none of those films have been very good. I had high hopes that this effort would change that, especially when I saw that it comes from the Dowdle brothers. Their credits include Devil, Quarantine, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, and because all are worth watching I was hoping they would carry on their talents to this experience. As Above, So Below excels on some levels and fails on others, leaving me with a mostly-positive flick that is better than every other catacombs-based effort, but not quite the awesome show of horror I was hoping for.

Scarlett is an adventurous and highly intelligent young woman who has followed in her father’s footsteps of uncovering the truth behind history’s greatest myths. Her father’s obsession with the Philosepher’s Stone – a legendary symbol in the history of alchemy – leads her to Paris, France where she and her cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge; The Purge) recruit her ex boyfriend George and a trio of locals to sneak them into the Catacombs’ uncharted areas. Their adventure proves theories beyond their wildest dreams, but their elation soon turns to terror when they find themselves trapped deep within the underground labyrinth of the dead. As they desperately fight to find a way out, they come to the realization that their search for the Philospher’s Stone has lead them to the entrance of Hell itself.

The first thought that comes to my mind when I come across a Catacombs-themed horror film is “How can they go wrong?”. If you know me then you know I am big on atmosphere, and an underground labyrinth of tunnels adorned with the skulls and femurs of 6 million people gives you atmosphere that cannot be matched. Because of this I have always felt that you did not have to try very hard to deliver good horror with that setting, but somehow I have yet to see a truly solid horror flick with such a setting. I really cannot believe that but it is true.

This story comes written by John and Drew Dowdle and I give them props for giving us a modern day take on the Catacombs setting. The first act moves appropriately, introducing our protagonists but focusing heavily on Scarlett and the drastic measures she is willing to take to get to the truth behind whatever obsession is currently on her mind. We learn that her father seemingly lost his mind searching for the Philospher’s Stone, and for reasons not immediately revealed we learn that Scarlett’s obsession in finding it stems from a heavy heart. Soon enough our 6 adventurers are finally within the unauthorized area of the tunnels that should lead them to the stone, if Scarlett is indeed correct, and cameraman Benji places a small pin camera on everyone’s headlamp to give us multiple angles to view the horror from. Once inside the rest of the story plays off like The Descent. What I mean by that is the first half of the film is long but engaging development that uses awesome atmosphere to keep you engaged, while the latter half of the film is all out chaos. I really enjoy this style of writing so long as you have good execution to keep you glued during the first half, and that is the case here. The Dowdles manage to provide decent horror before the real horror hits, which they do via claustrophobic scenes and split-second hallucinations. When the intended horror finally manifests we are presented with conflict I expected and antagonists I did not expect. I really do not want to give away any spoilers, but what I can say is that the horror is both physical and psychological – equally giving us the best of both those worlds.

While I enjoyed the setting, the characters, and the film’s Descent-esque pacing, there is a reason why I only deem this borderline-positive and not a solid, truly positive effort – the horror. I enjoyed the claustrophobic scenes, the psychological torment, and the kills, but the horror itself did not hit very hard. The best horror the story had to offer was constantly teased and never allowed to envelop me into the terror. One could argue that the tease is what makes it fun, but when the tease never pays off it comes off as wasted potential to me.

 

John Erick Dowdle directs the film and does a good job of bringing the story to life. Even though I did not love the piece the way I wanted to I was still glued to the screen throughout the entire 93 minute experience. He made history by being the only filmmaker granted access to actually film in the real Catacombs underneath Paris. The genre is full of incredible directors who could have done some real damage had they been able to film in such a location, but Dowdle beat everyone to it. I will say that only small portions of the film are actually filmed in the Catacombs, with some of the more destructive scenes obviously filmed on a set. I marveled at how much the film “moved” from one location (within the Catacombs) to another, constantly taking our protagonists deeper and deeper into the Earth’s crust. The sets used are incredible and I applaud Dowdle’s execution of the claustrophobic scenes mentioned earlier. I was sitting in the comfort of my fluffy movie theater seat and felt my chest tighten as I watched Benji frantically try to free himself from an ever-closing crevice. What happened to me is a direct result of good execution. Our six main actors did a good job of selling their roles – some of them major and some of them minor – with all of them contributing to the chaos and paranoia going on before us. When the horror hit I was reminded of how well Dowdle executed the initial shock scenes in his most recent horror film, Devil, and he managed to deliver several more shocks before the end credits. I call them shocks instead of scares because their usefulness is short lived. Basically, they are gone as fast as they come. With such incredible atmosphere I was expecting some long drawn-out sequences to get my heart racing but that was never the case here. Once again, I call it as it is – wasted potential. I did mostly enjoy the look of the antagonists though but because I was not provided a solid look at them I cannot say that they are anything special. Do I really need to scream “wasted potential” again?

Overall, As Above, So Below is a film I wanted to love but found to be slightly above mediocre at best. I enjoyed the overall story but in the end it really does hold back the film when it comes to the horror. Dowdle’s direction is solid and I credit this direction for keeping me engaged during a film that disappointed me a little. Nonetheless, he shows that he still has directing talent that should carry him on to future projects. Despite my borderline-positive rating I suggest you give this film a watch for yourself and come up with your own conclusion. Even though it has its flaws it really is a marvel to see a horror flick filmed in one of the world’s scariest places, and Dowdle ensures it will be visually worth your time.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

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