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Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

As Above, So Below (2014)

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

Premise: A found footage movie in which a team of explorers search the catacombs below the streets of Paris and discover supernatural activity.

What Works: As Above, So Below is a low budget picture but the filmmakers have succeeded in giving the film pretty solid production values. Most of the picture takes place in a subterranean graveyard and it never looks cheap. Possibly benefiting from its underground setting and low lighting, the locations of As Above, So Below generally look convincing and the stacks of bones and the grimy texture of the caves gives the movie an effectively creepy look. The actors of As Above, So Below are also fairly credible. The cast is led by Perdita Weeks as an archeologist who is seeking out a mythical stone. Although Weeks is too young for the part, she leads the film well enough. Ben Feldman is cast as her companion and the two have an effective rapport, giving the film some human qualities among the horror. As a found footage movie, As Above, So Below does two things well. First, the cameraman is characterized. In too many of these movies the camera operator is simultaneously in the thick of the action and a passive documenter of it. The cameraman of As Above, So Below is played by Edwin Hodge and he participates in the decision making, is a target of malevolent forces, and gets scared, even appearing on camera from time to time. One innovation of this film is to give each of the characters a helmet camera which allows the filmmakers the ability to cut from one point of view to another and break up the monotony of the film. That leads to the other innovation of As Above, So Below, which is to create a credible justification for the existence of the footage. A common flaw of the found footage genre is that the conceit evaporates; when things really get intense it is often unbelievable that the characters would continue shooting. The head mounted cameras mostly solve this problem.

What Doesn’t: Although the filmmakers solve some of the inherent problems of the found footage format, they exacerbate others. The biggest problem of As Above, So Below is in its conceit. A movie like this begs the question of who put this footage together; in most movies of this sort the audience assumes that they are seeing raw footage that was lost in the course of the events on screen. That isn’t the case here and the ending of the story creates severe logical problems for the movie. These existential flaws are such a drag on As Above, So Below because the movie is frequently confusing and rarely engaging. The filmmakers of this movie thrust the audience into the action but not enough is explained. As Above, So Below is a horror picture but it also has a lot in common with movies like National Treasure and adaptations of Dan Brown novels like The Da Vinci Code. Those films have their flaws but at least their makers spent time laying out enough exposition so that the audience had a sense of what was happening on screen and what the characters were trying to accomplish. In As Above, So Below the characters stumble around in the dark and weird things happen but there’s never enough context. The result is a bunch of scenes of people running around in the dark punctuated by an occasional jump gag, but without anything really happening. Horror fans will especially find As Above, So Below to be unsatisfying. This film retreads a lot of “demonic gateway” movies like The Beyond and City of the Living Dead but there’s little here that is new. But more disappointingly, As Above, So Below is short on scares. Although it has been rated R by the MPAA, the movie is really a PG-13 horror picture and it does not thrill or frighten nearly as much as it should.

Bottom Line: Young viewers, horror newbies, and other people who don’t know any better might find As Above, So Below to be a creepy film but experienced viewers will recognize it as a weak imitation with lousy storytelling. 

Episode: #507 (September 7, 2014)