As Above, So Below (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

As Above, So Below (2014)

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Scarlett has traveled around the world in search of clues for the legendary philosopher's stone.  After her last journey she believes that she has pinned down the location of the stone - the catacombs beneath Paris.  She rushes to Paris and recruits a team willing to dive into the depths of the tunnels with her.  But she has also attracted some unwanted attention from people who would like to leave the mystery of the catacombs intact.  John Erick Dowdle directs As Above, So Below from a screenplay written by him and his brother Drew Dowdle.

We win the big oneAs Above, So Below highlights an important skill when reading any film. If you look at the advertising for As Above, So Below, especially with that deep red and black poster, or look up details online, you’ll find that it is billed as a horror movie. If I were to evaluate the film strictly in the horror genre I would not be able to give it a pass. On the simplest basis of criticism it’s just not scary, no matter how well designed the scenario is, and I rarely felt chilled by the actions onscreen.

So As Above, So Below does not work as a horror film. Thankfully, I have the option of reading the film and forming a conclusion outside the bounds of horror. Keeping this in mind, As Above, So Below (AA,SB from this point on) may not be much of a horror film, but as quite possibly the first found footage Indiana Jones film it’s a good bit of fun.

It might not be very scary, but I liked that the antagonists took makeup lessons from David Bowie.

It might not be very scary, but I liked that the antagonists took makeup lessons from David Bowie.

The opening scenes and basic premise of AA,SB work as a side-story or unofficial expansion of one of the adventures of that rogue archaeologist. Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), is a double-PhD scholar of alchemy who travels around the world in pursuit of the philosopher’s stone. This philosopher’s stone is a bit more powerful than the one I’m used to seeing in film as it is able to transmute base metals to gold and convey upon its bearer the gift of eternal life. Any number of cinematic adventures have started on a premise like that, and while it's beyond the usual purview of horror films AA,SB does little to chill and instead rises to thrill.

A few minutes of the film will solve any lingering doubt about which approach works best.  Despite the cramped setting of AA,SB the cinematography and direction, courtesy of Leo Hinstin and John Erick Dowdle, almost goes to comic lengths to emphasize just how much space is really available to the intrepid tunnel explorers.  One shot in particular amused me because Hinstin and Dowdle seemed to be trying to figure out just how many people they could cram into one corner of the tunnel at once.  The cameras don't linger on the various enclosures and there's almost always an exit present right there on the screen.  Compare this approach to a more straight-ahead horror film, like Crawl or Die from earlier this year, that keeps those exits barred or perpetually out of the protagonists grasp.

I like to think that Dowdle took it as a personal challenge to see if he could fit his entire cast in one cramped shot in the corner.

I like to think that Dowdle took it as a personal challenge to see if he could fit his entire cast in one cramped shot in the corner.

This leaves AA,SB free to follow its lovingly bonkers plot off into traps that wait in the perpetually shifting labyrinth of the tunnels.  I'll leave some plot details alone for those who want to find out the fun details surrounding the maze, but Dowdle uses these plot points to make fun reuse of the limited space he had to work with in the tunnels.  Dowdle was able to film in the real catacombs below Paris and to avoid a lot of unneeded destruction he is able to alter each reused area in such a way that creates a thrilling nightmare.  Additional visual details, some broad and some so subtle they breeze on by, offer hints toward the predicament the explorers find themselves in.  There are a few moments involving the surprising introduction of modern technology to the ancient catacombs that are so silly they loop around to fun.

I believe the proper term for a film like AA,SB is that it is a trifle.  This is not a bad thing, so many films barely surpass mediocre and sometimes it's nice to unwind with a film that engages me only so long as it is playing and leaves my mind.  It's unlikely AA,SB will ever again enter my thought process, but the unique scenario and Dowdle's fun direction at least make a pleasing wisp.

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Tail - As Above So BelowAs Above, So Below (2014)

Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
Screenplay written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle.
Starring Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, and Francois Civil.

Posted by Andrew

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