As Above, So Below: creative ideas, average execution

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As many of you already know, I’m kind of a horror movie nut. Not the gross stuff and not the super schlocky stuff, but give me classics like Psycho and The Exorcist, spooky ghost stories like The Orphanage or The Conjuring, or fun horror-comedies like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, and I am a happy camper. For better or worse, I’m also partial to found-footage/mockumentary horrors. Sadly, I’ve been burned by them a couple times this year (see Devil’s Due and/or Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), yet even so I keep coming back for more.

I was cautiously optimistic about As Above, So Below…until I started seeing some of the reviews for it. Watching the film drop from an 8.0 to a 6.2 on IMDb was a bit of a bummer, yet I’d made plans with a friend and wasn’t about to back out. And you know what? It honestly was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. It’s not going to be winning awards or anything, but there are actually some unique, creepy ideas at its core, and it really does attempt something grander than most found-footage horrors.

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.” Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.

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The Good: While I’m a horror nut, I’m also a bit of a classic literature nut, which is why I appreciated the hints of Dante’s Inferno throughout this. Yes, you read that right. Maybe I’m reading a little too much into some moments, but it seemed to me that Dante Alighieri’s tale of one man’s journey through hell was undoubtedly an influence here. There are the more glaring moments, like when the explorers go into a tunnel that has the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” written above the entrance (Dante claims to find that inscription on the gate of hell), but there are a few subtle moments that made me think of The Inferno, too. Bodies reach out from a narrow body of water much like wrathful souls might have reached out to Dante from the river Styx. A hooded figure stalks the explorers in the dark—maybe a reference to the hooded cloaks the hypocrites in hell were made to wear. My personal favorite was a moment that I don’t want to ruin, but it involves a character being buried headfirst with only his feet sticking out, which made me think of a group of sinners doomed to a similar fate (with the added bonus of flames eternally burning their feet). I loved the stuff like this and the other historical and literary references. Alchemy, the philosophers’ stone, and Nicholas Flamel are a focus of the film, which made the Harry Potter nerd in me jump up and down with joy. And leading lady Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a pretty tough gal. I read a review somewhere that described her as the child of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, which is not a bad way to put it. The film as a whole has a constant sense of tension and claustrophobia, which provides a pretty solid tone for horror.

Favorite Scene: If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen this moment, but I’ll say it anyway: Scarlett and co. enter an area with an old piano, and George (Ben Feldman) says that it reminds him of a piano his family used to have. He begins to play a song, saying that he could never finish it because a certain key always stuck. When he reaches that key, it sticks. Somehow, it’s the same piano. Chills.

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The Bad: The film has a solid base to build from, yet it unfortunately falls into old, tired found-footage tricks. There are plenty of scares, I suppose, but most of them are cheap, jump scares that aren’t really very scary at all. I mean, if this is really supposed to be hell, I’d expect much worse. As for the characters, aside from Scarlett, we know next to nothing about these people, which makes it difficult to care when they begin getting picked off. Even Scarlett, the character we get to know the most, is not entirely easy to root for because she makes some stupid, stupid choices. She does pretty much everything you aren’t supposed to do in a scary movie. The gal may have the guts of a tomb raider, but she tends to have the brains of a brick. Also, the film vaguely hints at some of the explorers’ greatest sins and regrets, but not nearly enough is done their stories. Hell is supposed to punish them for their sins, but we barely know what their sins are. It’s a letdown not only in regards to character development, but there are several missed opportunities for some cool, “punishment fits the sin” type moments. Other than that, the film suffers from a generally rushed feeling. It takes a while to get to the deepest, creepiest parts of the catacombs, yet once we get there the plot goes by in a hurried blur.

Least Favorite Scene: In the midst of running away from life-threatening danger and severely scary stuff, two characters pause to reflect on their failed relationship, express their regrets, and rekindle that old flame. Excuse me while I go vomit.

To Sum It Up: While As Above, So Below may be the best found-footage film I’ve seen so far this year, that isn’t saying much because it’s still not great. An interesting premise is wasted on the same old humdrum horror that has become the norm for so many recent scary movies. I’m not disappointed that I saw it, but I can’t exactly recommend dishing out money for an expensive movie ticket. If you really, really love found-footage horror, maybe go to a matinee. Otherwise, wait for the DVD.

My Grade: C+

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35 thoughts on “As Above, So Below: creative ideas, average execution

  1. “In the midst of running away from life-threatening danger and severely scary stuff, two characters pause to reflect on their failed relationship, express their regrets, and rekindle that old flame. Excuse me while I go vomit.”

    The only thing worse than that is when people talk what they’re typing…..

    UGH!!!!

    #probieloveforeverandever

  2. Great post. I love horror and thought this looked interesting. I find it’s best to go into horror films – especially found footage films – with low expectations!

  3. This looks quite interesting and sounds decent enough but, like you, I’m eagerly awaiting the next big horror surprise. There have been a quite a few stinkers and some solid efforts over the past few years, yet nothing outstanding. Think it might have something to do with the – often annoying – found footage addiction. I digress. Might check this one out. Great work Cara!

    Adam.

    • I’m with you, Adam. Not much to get super stoked about over the last couple of years, although there have been a few diamonds in the rough (The Conjuring and Sinister come to mind). I do think that found-footage needs a break for a while–at least until they can think of something fresh to do with it. But they’re cheap to make and they generate lots of money, so I doubt they’re going anywhere. Lol.

  4. Great review, Cara! Sounds disappointing but I’ll still check it out as I’ve been in the catacombs in Paris (yes. freaky. believe me) so I’m interested in seeing this. There’s no WAY it’s worse than Catacombs starring Pink. UGH! Still, it was cool watching that just after I’d been there. : )

  5. I couldn’t decide if I should see this or not but it seems I banked on the right choice by staying home. I wanted this to be good but not seeing any reviews or scores posted on Rotten Tomatoes until the very last second had me concerned. Sounds like it’s perhaps bashed a bit too much and has some promise. MIght give it the old rent-a-roo

    • Yeah I’d say a rental is the way to go, buddy. It’s not bad, but not great either. Yeah I was wondering about Rotten Tomatoes, too…weird how they have some scores way in advance and others, like, the night it comes out…

  6. Awesome review! I was pretty hyped about this one until I started seeing all the reviews. I guess I’ll wait for it. I’ve seen a lot of found footage this year surprisingly (since I never saw any before) and my guess is that its not going to beat the epicness of some of those…so yeah, I’ll be waiting for a Netflix release or a cheapy DVD 😉

    Just a side note: the thing about horror that makes it ridiculous annoying is when all the characters are so stupid! Its so frustrating! And they like to do the retarded things, like ponder their life at the most inconvenient and illogical times..haha!

    • Ooooh are you talking about the ones you saw at the Fantasia Film Fest (which I’m still SUPER jealous about, by the way…lol)? Because yeah I want to see those! I think it’s a good call to wait for the DVD for this one though.

      RIGHT? It’s like the people in horror movies exist in a world with no horror movies!! They are dumb as bricks!! Hahaha.

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