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New Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

Updated on September 15, 2014

Director: John Erick Dowdle
Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro, Hamidreza Javdan

After the opening scene of the found footage horror film As Above, So Below, I was already sold on the leading lady. Traveling on a bus that's crossing the Iranian border, she points the camera at herself, says that she is venturing out on her own free will, and tells of all the dangers that could befall her should she be captured, including being executed. Then, she smiles at the camera and says, "They're gonna have to catch me first!"

Played by the beautiful and charming Welsh actress Perdita Weeks (who looks a lot like Saffron Burrows in some shots), her Scarlet Marlowe is like a female Indiana Jones. She's spunky, she's adventurous, she's resourceful, and she keeps you invested in her adventures. Scarlet is a university professor of archeology and symbology, who can speak six languages (4 living and 2 dead), and has a black belt in Capoeira. Like her beloved late father (who committed suicide some time ago), Scarlet travels the world in search of undiscovered places and historical artifacts.

Her latest target is the Philosopher's Stone, which is said to not only change base metals into gold, but also to possess incredible healing powers. She finds a clue on a statue in Iran as to the stone's whereabouts, and it leads her to the Catacombs of Paris, in a secret chamber underneath the resting place of the stone's creator, alchemist Nicholas Flamel. Along with helpful documentarian Benji (Edwin Hodge), knowledgable local Papillon (François Civil), Papillon's girlfriend Souxie (Marion Lambert) and best friend Zed (Ali Marhyar), and Scarlet's reluctant old buddy George (Ben Feldman), Scarlet and her team (of course) find more than they bargained for down there in the catacombs.

The film was shot in location in the Parisian Catacombs, which has 200 miles worth of old caves, and houses over 6 million dead bodies. There is something rather unnerving about watching the actors crawl through narrow passages lined with human bones, especially during the scene where one of the characters gets stuck. Lit only by helmet lights and shot in tight angles on HD cameras, the sense of claustrophobia in this scene is almost unbearable, and it takes on an especially eerie note when we hear the sounds of Satanic chanting growing louder and closer by the second.

A fantastic voyage.....INTO HELL!!!!!!!!!!
A fantastic voyage.....INTO HELL!!!!!!!!!!

For a good hour or so, As Above, So Below works well as an adventure movie. The performances are better than you would expect (Weeks is the stand out in the cast), and the set-pieces are well directed by John Erick Dowdle. One scene that stands out comes when our heroes stand outside the chamber of the Philosopher's Stone. There are a stack of stones nearby, and according to the clues, they have to pull out the right stone to open the chamber door. If they don't, the roof will collapse and kill them. I love stuff like that.

Eventually, the team encounters a passageway with the inscription "Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here" above it, which is, of course, the same inscription over the gates of Hades. Faced with no other option (one of the team members inadvertantly sets off a trap, causing a cave in), the charcters proceed forward, and it is here where the movie transforms into a horror movie. Characters find items -- a dusty piano with a bum key, a burning car with a boy inside, a ringing telephone with Scarlet's dad on the line -- that opens up wounds from their past, and many are prone to experiencing hallucinations.

"I knew I should have hit the treadmill before coming here!"
"I knew I should have hit the treadmill before coming here!"

A friend from Papillon's past (Cosme Castro), who was thought to have died after venturing down an "evil" corridor in the catacombs, shows up. He first acts as a less-than-helpful guide before turning into a violent psychopath. Then, they're attacked by a menacing horde of what looked like stone demons. This leads to a lot of scenes where creatures jump out of the shadows and at the camera, which is a tired cliché, but it's one the movie has fun with by having Scarlet put her fighting skills to good use every time a creature jumps out at her. Some of the things that happens don't make a whole lot of sense if you think about it too much, especially the scene where one of the characters is attacked by what looks like a woman holding a baby.

The horror movie scenes don't work nearly as well as the adventure scenes preceding them, and the shaky camera shenanigans grows more than a little difficult to take as the movie wears on. And yet, it's surprising how effective the movie is, given that the trailers promised something far more atrocious. As Above, So Below is certainly not going to win any awards, and it's difficult to argue with those who dislike the movie (they make many valid points). Yet, if one takes the movie on its own terms, it works as a fun, atmospheric, and decently acted B-movie.

Rated R for some bloody violence and profanity

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

5 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of As Above, So Below (2014)


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