August 29, 2014
John Dowdle and Drew Dowdle
Perdita Weeks as Scarlett
Ben Feldman as George
Francois Civil as Papillon
Scarlett is the daughter of the world’s foremost expert on historic alchemy practices (the study of metal transformation). He killed himself after failing to find the location of the Philosopher’s Stone – the capstone achievement of 15thcentury alchemists. With the stone, one could not only turn metal into gold, but heal anything. Determined to complete his quest, Scarlett sets out on a journey that leads her to the labyrinthine catacombs beneath Paris. With her Aramaic-speaking friend, George, and a team of ‘experts’ familiar with the tombs, she hunts for the stone in them. But after crawling through a few narrow tunnels, the group finds themselves trapped in a part of the catacombs no one has ever been… A strange area where the mirror of existence – including death – seems to flourish.
As Above So Below (2014) is worth seeing if only for the fresh concept – a haunted tomb that mirrors the world above it. The film has all the basic found footage scares, but they don’t make an appearance until the last half. The scenes associated with them feature broken bones and gushing neck wounds for gory imagery and although they are tense and their ‘startling’ nature will give some a jump, a horror veteran will sigh. However the disturbing theme is above average and the main selling point of the feature: Parts of the world mirror other parts. Whereas the living seek life, the dead seek death. Whereas we instinctively try to save lives, the dead instinctively try to kill. Yet, the catacombs is thankfully not yet another place for zombies or vampires to hide (I was very happy when such a predictable turn of events failed to transpire), but a kind of hell (referenced as such) that exists independent of us and has beings who are dead within it – but most of the rules are determined by what we take into it and thus it also becomes a psychological kind of torment.
Like most films of this nature, some (or a lot) die along the way as we slowly learn more about the nature of this mirror world. Since the story is told through found footage, the audience is invited to participate intimately in the adventure and the otherworldly setting of the catacombs ensures that there is constant interest if not tension throughout. The quest is also unique enough (even if there is a Da Vinci Code element) to compel near rapt attention at times.
Yet unfortunately the story prior to the group’s entrance into the catacombs is a little slow and the majority of the dialogue and ‘human’ camera attention throughout is given to Scarlett. This would not be a negative, were Perdita Weeks’s acting not subpar. Fortunately she is surrounded by an able cast – particularly Ben Feldman and Francois Civil – that lift scenes with her into the realm of ‘suspension of disbelief’ (the target of all fiction) as best they can. However, sadly, their efforts are hampered in many cases by stilted – or at least yawningly predictable – dialogue.
The failings in dialogue and acting shine through at critical moments to the point that if the setting, quest and strange happenings are removed, the character-driven aspect of the story becomes trite and fails to entertain. That flaw helps detract attention from the overall focus above ground, but fortunately there is enough going on below ground to overwhelm an otherwise very dull interaction.
Bottom Line: Below average execution detracts somewhat from a fairly compelling concept. Like most found footage films, enjoyment is not enhanced by seeing this one in the theater but if you have nothing else to do, it’s easily worth the price of a matinee.