As Above, So Below

Movie Information

The Story: A search for the philosopher's stone in the Paris catacombs turns deadly in a supernatural way. The Lowdown: Pretty bottom-of-the-barrel horror made that much worse by nausea-inducing shaky-cam and often incoherent direction.
Score:

Genre: Subterranean Supernatural Hooey
Director: John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine)
Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert
Rated: R

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The tagline for As Above, So Below tells us, “The only way out is down,” but the truth is that the theater lobby provides a quicker exit from this subterranean supernatural sludge. Here we have a shaky-cam spectacle of the vague “found footage” school in which a bunch of D-list actors I’ve never heard of searching for the philosopher’s stone in the Parisian catacombs find the entrance to hell. Now, as I have noted elsewhere, this is utter nonsense. Any horror film fan worthy of the name knows that the entrance to hell is in Brooklyn — a fact established in 1977 by Michael Winner’s The Sentinel — and no attempt to transfer this accolade to Paris is worth considering. Just because someone has scrawled “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” on a cave is hardly convincing — no matter how much incoherent, barely decipherable “boogie boogie boogie” nonsense follows. Case closed.

 

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The movie is from John Erick Dowdle and his co-writer brother, Drew. These boys previously gave us Quarantine (2008) and Devil (2010) (in fairness, the latter was from a story by M. Night Shyamalan). That should be warning enough to stay away from this one — and truth be told, viewers do not seem to be lining up for it. Whether that speaks well for audiences or merely speaks to end-of-summer moviegoing malaise is debatable. I have certainly seen worse movies strike it rich. And the truth is there are isolated — very isolated — moments in the film that are pretty creepy. For that matter, the film is somewhat effective at being uncomfortable — and not just from the nausea-inducing “camerawork.” But this has less to do with the film than with the basic discomfort of claustrophobia. This also raises the question of whether generating discomfort is desirable. We go to horror movies for a variety of reasons — to enter worlds we don’t otherwise get to see, to feel our pulses race in moments of suspense, to jump at shock effects (and then laugh at ourselves for jumping), for a brief frisson at the creepy. But I can’t say I’ve ever had the least desire to see a movie that made me physically uncomfortable. Others may feel differently.

 

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All this nonsense is centered around overachiever archaeologist and martial arts expert (it’s important — honest) Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), who is determined to find the philosopher’s stone. The evidence suggests that the damned thing is in some supersecret part of the catacombs of Paris. (I’m guessing she already checked the wash basin and possibly even the sofa cushions.) So her hapless cameraman (Edwin Hodge, who, being the black guy, is easily freaked out, it seems) and her very recalcitrant semi-ex-boyfriend (Ben Feldman) accompany her and some sketchy French graffiti artists/catacomb experts into the bowels of Paris. Creepy stuff happens — mostly involving barely-glimpsed horrors, loud noises and a soupçon of György Ligeti music. Really, apart from the unusual location, there’s nothing new here, and the movie’s notions of hell are slightly less persuasive than those in January’s Devil’s Due — and that’s saying a lot. I mean, this is a movie where a well-placed kung fu blow will shatter a carnivorous demon. Is that the best hell can do?

 

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In the end As Above, So Below is just another bad horror movie made worse by the worn-out “found footage” ploy, which was never any damn good in the first place. And, of course, the film can’t even stick to the concept. Long before the end, it’s cheating like crazy on the idea, which mostly seems to exist here solely because it “covers up” — or excuses — the incoherent nature of the proceedings. In this regard, the movie is a monument to the school of if-you-can’t-tell-what’s-going-on-it-must-be-exciting-as-hell — one of the most annoying affectations of modern film. Rated R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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9 thoughts on “As Above, So Below

  1. T.rex

    The trailer was creepy enough to get me to see it and it was worth the nine bones. (Puh dum chee)
    Was it good? Not at all but I did get scared in places and got a lot of goose bumps. It was like going to a cheesy spook house at the town carnival where characters made of card board and plastic jump out at you. I would recommend it to friends if it wasn’t for that god awful ending. Silly fun but I should have chose November Man.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Clapton knows. I wouldn’t recommend it to any friends I was anxious to keep.

  3. Kevin

    Im sorry but i disagree with this review for multiple reasons. Found footage is a sub-genre of horror that deserves it recognition for at least trying to be unique and different. Its why we continue to watch the repetitive nature of horror in the first place because we want to see how what we come to know can be done different. If an individual cant handle the style than fine don’t see the movie but it doesn’t make a movie bad. Also, there are believed to be 7 gates to hell depending on ones religion. All because one is shown in another movie does not make it implausible for another one to exist in another film. That’s like saying the Eiffel tower was destroyed in G.I. Joe why is it standing in Taken. That argument holds no ground. This version of hell i happened to enjoy because it didn’t focus on punishing an individual for their terrible deeds or mindless and pointless violence and torture. Instead it focused on how ones own guilt of any action whether it be not answering the phone the night your father kills himself or feeling at fault for your brothers death can cause ones own pain or torture until they are able to forgive themselves. Yes, it did rush itself at the end which was disappointing but overall it possessed more than you give it credit for. Did i find it scary? No, but that’s because i’m not a jumpy individual. A lot of people did jump in the theater and were scared. Your one star review only looks at the movie at its surface and obviously can get past the camera style. The movie deserves 2-3 stars because it actually had more “meat” than most horror movies possess.

  4. Kevin

    Im not saying its a perfect movie. if you scare easy and enjoy horror movies in the theater go see it. If not than rent it or Netflix it if it goes on Netflix. All i’m saying is this movie deserves more credit than this guy gives it.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Well, that’s your opinion and your right. I fear I don’t have any good will whatever for the found-footage sub-genre. That extends back to The Blair Witch Project, which I think is absolute rubbish. It is a cheap approach to filmmaking that excuses a complete lack of skill on the part of the filmmakers, i.e., it looks like crap because it was shot by amateurs who were scared out of their minds, so it doesn’t even require the most basic moviemaking skills.

    This, to me, is just another bad horror movie in a long list of them — and I am very much a horror film fan. That’s “this guy’s” opinion anyway. And as concerns the business about the entrance to hell being in Brooklyn, as established in 1977, that’s what is known as a joke.

  6. T.rex

    You both make good points but there is a big question here….Did this movie really have to be done in found footage style. I think it it could have been a lot better if it was done in a standard fashion.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Does any movie really need to be made in found footage “style?” Even Daniel Stamm’s estimable The Last Exorcism would have been better without it, since with it, it has a really shrug of an ending.

  8. Edwin Arnaudin

    Yet another reason why James Wan’s films are so effective.

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