As Above So Below, a very shaky cammed found footage film, was actually one I had looked forward to, if only because of the title. As stated in the film, “As Above, So Below” is one of the central tenants of all magick with a k, and considered to be the basis of many spiritual paths – “on earth as it is in heaven” and all that whole song and dance. I appreciated that someone took this concept which is so central to arcane practice and was presenting it in film. It’s a fucking legit title and I’m sort of shocked that no one has tapped that market, so to speak. Unfortunately, the movie does not really make with any good of having such a legit concept and reads as if this idea was originally for a video game. The premise centers on Scarlett, daughter of an esteemed and also insane (shocking) professor of history and mythology who is on the quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, in an effort to complete her dead father’s life’s work.
Scarlett is shown rambling around in Iran desperately trying to catch a glimpse of some ancient ruins before they are blown sky high, and almost immediately, I started having doubts about the legitimacy of this film. I was willing to put aside my disbelief, but I didn’t really find Scarlett’s Lara Croft-Ian leanings to be believable. She soon teams up with some old friends, including some asshole she once left to rot in a Turkish gulag, and he’s so pussy blind that he again agrees to quite literally follow this poor man’s Lara Croft to The Devil’s kingdom. Using ancient sleuthing techniques ripped straight out of a Dan Brown novel, Scarlett is able to pin point the location of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, and it is buried beneath the city of Paris in the Catacombs. This is also a totally legit and fucked concept that should have been terribly frightening. I’ve been to the catacombs and there really isn’t any feeling in the world like being surrounded by literally millions of bones. Your mortality is never more obvious than at the very moment you look down a winding hallway of chamber upon chamber and everywhere you look is stacked with femurs and skulls.
The actual amount of time spent to showing this real life scare factory is probably less than ten or so minutes of the film, which is really a damn shame. Instead, the old trope of a group of friends being forced to look to their past wrongs and atone for their sins is rolled out in the same old dog and pony show, except the shaky cam is shaky to the point that it’s actually nauseating. I found that though I wanted to be scared, I spent more time feeling queasy, which is acceptable on the discomfort scale, but keep in mind that the atmospheric claustrophobia and shakiness only works in the theatre setting. I do not think these feelings would transfer well to a home viewing, if at all. Creepy cult members, gold doubloons, hooded figures and alchemical symbols that could have been laced together to be creepy, instead appeared almost Indiana Jones-esque, and I quickly grew bored of not being scared and instead felt only sick from the overdone shaky cam. As Scarlett and her team delve deeper into the catacombs, they discover a small gate that says “abandon hope all ye who enter” and immediately, one of the team states they will go no further, but then soldiers on without any argument, while remarking about going to Hell. It honestly just really goes for a shit about forty minutes in and everything else following is just a mishmash of thrown together pseudo creepiness, and some cheeseball “power of love” happy ending that just made for a real groaner. In all, I still think you should watch the fucking thing, because it’s neat for a larf, but don’t expect to piss yourself in fear, but those with weak stomachs might do to down some pepto before hand or get hopped up on gravol because I felt vaguely sea sick for a good hour afterwards, and truthfully i would rather be quaking than queasy.
Heading deep underground via cave systems (or tunnels in this instance) always gives me the willies. It isn’t an idea that has been on enough for it to become too cliche in my mind yet, but post viewing of As Above So Below I may have a few warning flags go up next time i get wind of a subterranean shocker being released. What started with an interesting concept (the most legendary artifact in alchemical history, the philosophers stone, is actually located below Paris in the skeleton filled catacombs) ultimetly ends up disappointing with it’s inability to handle it’s own story line.
The movie starts out with Scarlet, our heroine-to-be, sneaking into Iran to get photographic evidence of a statue that is purported to hold the secrets to locating the philosophers stone. No, not the one involving those british kids and the dude in severe need of a nose job, the OTHER one. You know, the one that alchemists have hunted for for hundreds of years that supposedly holds the secrets of transmuting lead into gold and (of course) life everlasting life.Yeah, THAT one. The one worthy of a Tomb Raider or Uncharted game. Which is where the movie presents it’s first, and most fundamental, problem. It feels like a story that would benefit from a first hand/personal perspective and not the outsider looking in perspective offered by cinema.
Once we get out of Iran we get watch our heroine assemble her team ala Oceans Eleven except, you know, lamer. Take her “MVP”, her apparent ex-something-or-other, for example. He is skilled at….you know what? I have no real idea. They never discussed it. I guess he’s an archeologist. They just force us to assume he is good with archeological stuff with no actual evidence beyond his wearing glasses, his penchant for fixing old clock towers and his association with the main character.. Anyways, back to lame Oceans Eleven. She assembles her team consisting of herself, Poindexter and some random french folk to act as guides during their journey through the catacombs.
It takes a good 40 minutes before we really get to descend into the catacombs and potentially see spooky stuff, which is the second failing of As Above So Below. If the premise of your movie involves something as iconic and thought provoking as the fucking catacombs underneath Paris, don’t you think we should get there as quickly as possible? I will say, the first little bit of the catacomb exploration had me hooked(despite the wait) reminding me at points of the claustrophobia induced by The Descent but even this was fleeting. This fleeting feeling was quickly replaced with a reminder that to make a modern horror movie, you need to strap a camera on a seals head and let it go nuts for at least a quarter of the movie. There were also far too many unanswered questions just left at the end of the movie for my liking. I like being able to take something away from a movie, to think about the for the ne hour or the next day, but not like this. They left fundamental questions unanswered, maybe expecting or hoping that the audience wouldn’t be paying enough attention to ask them.
While there was definitely some passable stuff on display here, As Above So Below falls short on too many levels for me to even recommend a watch when it inevitably hits our Netflix feeds in 6 months time. It gets some points for calling to mind it’s better contemporaries but ultimately fails to entertain. To say it plainly, As Above So Below would make a pretty killer video game. But, as a passenger on this slow train to hell instead of the conductor, we are left watching a messy blur of shaky handheld cams, lots of screaming at shapes (or nothing) and too many loose ends to count.
What a shame! I’m pretty obsessed with people living underground and have heard that Paris has its share of Mole People. I was hoping this movie would explore that more in depth. Plus, the commercials make it look almost like a movie about demons. At least I know not to waste my time.
Yeah, those trailers had me fooled I gotta say. Though the philosophers stone aspect WAS really cool to see, even if they did fumble with it.
“…to make a modern horror film, you need to strap a camera on a seal’s head and let it go nuts for a quarter of the movie.” Haha! Perfect way to describe it. Yeah I had high hopes for this movie too. Title was very intriguing, I found myself looking up the reference online, and then I wanted to see it more. But found footage shaky cam seems to have been turned into a novelty rather than something that enhances the story. Seems like the filmmakers pretend they’re being edgy, but they’re just doing something that has been tried and true in the past (Like using Hanz Zimmer’s famed “bwaaah” in movie trailers, or the Matrix’ bullet time effect).
The dreaded “bwaaaahhhh”! My favorite thing about that overused noise is that Zimmer has since gone on to apologize for creating it because it gets so overused now.