As Above, So Below (2014)

Although the title seems like just a play on words, the phrase “as above, so below” is actually the key to all magic. Or, so we are told by Perdita Weeks’ know-it-all British student – and you’d better believe she’ll utter those words ominously herself before the film is out.

Kicking off with a great jump scare that sets the tone for what’s to come, As Above, So Below is shot like a pseudo-documentary, detailing not a haunting, or anything particularly scary, but a search for the so-called Philosopher’s Stone (of Harry Potter fame), underground in the catacombs of Paris.

Weeks’ Scarlett is following in her recently-deceased father’s footsteps, alongside a ragtag bunch of scared Americans and smug Parisians, all of whom contribute more energy and charisma to the proceedings than any of Scarlett’s self-indulgent monologues.

After being tipped off about a secret entrance to the tunnels – by a mysterious hipster who vanishes into thin air immediately afterwards – the group sets off to uncover the truth, entering a place from which, they are warned, people do not return.

This should give some indication of how unintentionally hilarious As Above, So Below is. Played entirely straight, certain lines and moments are inescapably laughable, particularly the constant reiteration “the only way out is down”, which makes less sense the further they venture.

There are some creepy moments, such as a telephone eerily ringing, and the jump scares aren’t quite as obvious as they could’ve been. There are a couple of decent, gory shocks towards the end, too but, mostly it consists of people crawling around and screaming at nothing.

The idea is that everyone is haunted by something from his/her past, but this isn’t so much established as hammered into our skulls, while a sequence involving a tomb and a dead body is so Indiana Jones, it’s a wonder the man himself doesn’t pop up to educate these kids on the proper archaeologist conduct.

Lead actress Perdita Weeks has several costume dramas to her name, which may partly explain why her delivery is so hoity-toity, upper-class English throughout. Considering she spends the majority of the film delivering lines to camera, it becomes increasingly annoying and it’s difficult not to hope she perishes down below.

Director Dowdle has several horror credits, of varying quality, including the dreadful Devil, Quarantine and cult hit The Poughkeepsie Tapes. As Above, So Below represents a certain amount of growth as, alongside his brother Drew on script duties, he utilises an impressive setting to deliver if not a huge amount of scares, a decent degree of intrigue. Unfortunately, it all goes very Indiana Jones, with a dash of Relic Hunter for good measure – only this lot aren’t as interesting.

In an introductory interview, we learn Scarlett is a super-smart professor who, in spite of her age, has about a million PHDs to her name. It’s, therefore, understandable that she could, feasibly, figure out centuries-old scripture and decipher what clues are hidden where, but the speed at which she manages to do so – while stuck hundreds of feet below ground, no less! – is laughable, and at times downright insulting.

As Above, So Below is a mainstream horror flick, but do we really have so little faith in the multiplex crowd that we cannot allow for anything to be left a mystery? Or for the protagonist to be wrong more than once? It’s mind-numbingly stupid just how quickly Scarlett manages to find her way through the maze-like catacombs, how obvious everything is to her and how easily she figures the supposedly impenetrable puzzle out. Sadly, this robs the film of all scare potential because there’s simply no struggle.

Although the film boasts a wicked, real-life setting and some brilliantly claustrophobic moments, there’s an over-reliance on fleeting glimpses of shadowy, figures and jump scares that make it feel like just another paranormal instalment. It’s a shame, because the catacombs are wonderfully creepy and it stands to reason that one would probably end up going a bit mad while stranded down there.

The found footage angle doesn’t help either, as, aside from Scarlett being insufferable, the trusty Go-Pros attached to everyone’s helmets allow for multiple angles, leading to questions of how we could possibly be watching the stream from a variety of sources. It requires a massive suspension of disbelief that isn’t possible when the tone is so all over the place.

The film is presented as a documentary at first, so perhaps it’s intentional, but if this is the finished product, whoever put it together has a lot to answer for. Given the incredible surroundings, a straight feature film would’ve been a much safer bet, not to mention, arguably, a hell of a lot scarier too.

Although it utilises its location well, much like the tunnels themselves, As Above, So Below is full of interesting twists and turns that lead precisely nowhere.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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