I may have gone into As Above, So Below with rather high expectations. The buzz was strong, the trailers had me hooked, and there were positive reviews for it. My interest did drop a little when I heard it was a found footage film. Luckily, that was incorrect. It is, however, definitely a shaky cam romp through the Paris catacombs.
Over the last five or six years I’ve been reading a young adult series called The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. These are a fantastic read if that’s your thing, but what makes me bring this up is that as soon as the name Flamel pops up in this movie, I knew what we were about to experience. The catacombs, and everything else, suddenly made sense, and I turned to my friend to give a quick explanation, which proved pointless moments later because the main character dove right into it.
Scarlett is a treasure hunter who is on the hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone. After finding clues in a cave in the Middle East, she heads to Paris to enlist the help of a friend and former lover to decipher the clues. Along the way she hires a ragtag crew of crooks to help guide her through the off-limits portion of the Paris catacombs. Things don’t go as planned.
As Above, So Below takes a while to really find its groove, as they make sure we get to know all of these characters. None of them are overly annoying, which helped me like them all well enough. The script makes sure to name drop a lot so they do feel like people, and not just fodder for the bad things that are most likely going to happen.
The trailed gave me a The Descent vibe, but that gets tossed out the window fairly early on. There is one really good scene, though, where the claustrophobia sets in, and it feels like the scene lasts forever. That scene is perfectly acted, and my friend turned to me at one point and said he couldn’t take it any longer. That is how you create tension, and break your audience. Sadly the film never outdoes that moment until the finale, where we get this great parkour-style moment that pays great homage to The Descent.
What surprised me most is that this was written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, who also gave us Devil. Devil perfectly captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in an elevator, but ultimately fails to deliver. Thankfully he has honed his skills a lot since that outing, and his mixture of human characters and horror is something that we don’t see often in this type of film. While a few things are never explained, and the ending is completely mediocre, I had a lot of fun with the film. Sadly, there isn’t much mystery in our journey, which is a bit of a bummer.
As Above, So Below could very well be the best film title this year. Or it could be the worst, depending on if you know the origins of the quote or not. The title does have meaning in the film, but to give that away would spoil some parts, and trust me, you don’t want too much spoiled for you. While not a masterpiece, As Above, So Below is definitely one of the top three horror releases of 2014. Sadly, especially for a film like this, viewing this in theatres add little to the experience, and you can easily wait for the home video release.