May 4, 2015

Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

Found-footage horror movies are pretty popular to hate on these days. That's hard for me because I've been a fan of the genre ever since I saw The Blair Witch Project and even that's become a punching bag for popularizing the trend. I suppose there are some good reasons for movie watchers to be hard on found-footage since it's pretty rare to find any sort of innovation in the genre these days, but I'm all for giving movies a fair chance. As Above, So Below definitely seemed deserving of that much.

Found footage in the Catacombs of Paris? Maybe it's just me, but that premise alone sounds extremely cool. For once we're not dealing with ghosts or possessions in a house which is a nice change. Filmed in the actual Catacombs, it stars a relative bunch of unknowns and promises some shaky handheld camera mayhem. I was ready for a good time, or at least the kind of good time that horror movies can deliver if they're any good. 


At a Glance

Genre: horror, mystery, thriller
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Produced by: Patrick Aiello, Drew Dowdle, Jon Jashni, etc.
Written by: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Music by: Keefus Ciancia
Running time: 93 minutes
Production company: Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures, Brothers Dowdle Productions
Distributed by: Universal Pictures, United International Pictures, Universal Pictures International, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English, French, Latin
Budget: $5,000,000
Box office: $40,200,000

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro, Hamid Djavadan, Théo Cholbi, Emy Lévy, Roger Van Hool, Olivia Csiky Trnka, Hellyette Bess, Aryan Rahimian, Samuel Aouizerate, Kaya Blocksage



Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is on a quest to find the famed philosopher's stone which is said to be able to turn metals into gold and give eternal life. Scarlett recruits her ex-boyfriend George (Ben Feldman) to be part of the search while also being followed by documentary maker Benji (Edwin Hodge). After successfully translating a clue on Nicholas Flamel's headstone, they now know that the stone lies in wait somewhere deep inside the catacombs.



As Above, So Below unfortunately doesn't begin very well. The found-footage cinematography style which usually doesn't bother me seems purposefully unfocused and badly framed which distracts more than provide any kind of tension. The opening which is meant to be tense just doesn't quite get there. Scarlett finds herself inside a cave in Iran which is due to be blown up. Despite having to avoid security and get out before everything is detonated. It might sound intense, but this is a very flat start.

This is followed by some world building which stuck me as very rushed. World building is extremely important for horror if you want viewers to suspend their disbelief, but I wasn't feeling that with this script that the Dowdle brothers have put together. Alchemy and Nicolas Flamel is cool stuff, but not when the whole effort feels half-hearted and rushed like I said. John Erick Dowdle's direction seems to place a big emphasis on speed and chaos which is something that hurts the beginning. Not everything has to be frantic or have a time limit. I prefer more of a slow burn for horrors as it gets me settled in before hopefully testing the edge of my couch.

The other thing that annoyed me quite a bit with As Above, So Below was that every once in a while, Scarlett and George go into this frantic archeology/alchemy mode. This is where they try to figure out what to do next given the clues they find around them such as texts and carvings on the walls. These scenes actually remind of the techno-babble you'd find in bad crime TV shows. It's almost like the Dowdle brothers were trying to make an Indiana Jones found-footage movie, but failed completely. The number one reason why these scenes fail? The breakneck pace.

But onto the most important question, is As Above, So Below scary? Trust me, I really, really wish I could say that it is. Despite a really cool idea and a great setting, there's very little here that's legitimately scary. Moments where John Erick Dowdle could've emphasized to create unease and tension are wasted, not to mention a disappointing amount of jump scares. Dowdle also seems a bit too preoccupied with playing with sound and video which becomes more of an annoyance than anything else.

I can only really think of two scenes that actually got my heart pumping a bit. No surprise that it's when the movie actually slows down the pace a bit and lets the tension build naturally. One of them, sure to get claustrophobics squirming, is a scene where Benji is stuck in a tight passage with the bones of people long dead underneath him. All this while the chanting/singing of some creepy Catacombs cult seems to be getting louder and louder. I won't give away the other one, but it's the kind of thing that stays frozen in your mind.

As Above, So Below disappointingly fails to deliver on its interesting premise. The scares are in short supply and when it comes to the emotional response from the actors, something seems missing. While there are some interesting bits, it's not enough to keep AB,SB afloat. While it pains me to say this because I like found-footage, I honestly think that As Above, So Below would've worked better as a conventional horror movie. That maybe would've prompted the Brothers Dowdle to slow down a bit instead of going at the breakneck pace they seem to think that handheld cameras dictate. 



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