Dir: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, and Edwin Hodge
By Monte Yazzie (www.thecodafilms.com)
Claustrophobic and in moments creepy, director John Erick Dowdle gives “As Above, So Below” a fighting chance amongst genre clichés and forced frights. Using the rudimentary “found footage” style Dowdle transports a cast of young explorers into the catacombs underneath the streets of Paris. The unsettling location creates some wonderful atmosphere. Unfortunately the narrative foregoes exploration of some provoking historical elements introduced early on and the film becomes overly predictable and filled with the usual telegraphed scares that flaw films using this style choice.
Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a single-minded researcher bent on finishing her deceased father’s life work of finding an ancient historical artifact. This leads her initially into a dangerous cavern in Iran that almost kills her. Following the clues from Iran she is lead to Paris and into the forbidden section of the catacombs below the city. Looking for a secret doorway, Scarlett and her crew are trapped in the mazelike tomb leading them into the supernatural and face to face with their innermost fear.
The story begins as a treasure hunt in the vein of “Tomb Raider”, though not as intelligent or action packed. The history mystery has Scarlett investigating artifacts and piecing together a puzzle started by her father. This ultimately serves to accommodate the plot change, which brings a larger group of people to aid Scarlett into the catacombs of Paris. Once below the group is haunted by apparitions that reflect their own traumas and fears. The film only touches the surface of character development, though it could have offered an interesting inquiry into the secrets of past civilizations and the personal horror hidden inside the individual. The introduction is fairly sloppy though when the transition from adventure to horror happens, the atmosphere takes control and things get interesting. While nothing narratively will be particularly unique for horror fans, Dowdle shrewdly utilizes claustrophobic spaces, the confusion of darkness, and disorienting sound designs to keep things sinister. In one scene the simple design of a chanting chorus, along with a nightmarish situation for one of the characters, really brings the journey into the cavernous unknown to echoing life.
It’s unfortunate that the film uses the “found footage” technique. Whether a budgetary or production concern the hand-held approach hurts the frightening potential that the disturbing environment possesses. Every scare becomes telegraphed and the camera shakes away the atmosphere.
“As Above, So Below” has an effectively creepy mood to work with, and for a moment the location hides the weaknesses of the narrative. Perdita Weeks gives a decent performance as the brave and ambitious to a fault researcher but unfortunately the tiresome filmic technique hinders the terrifying experience proposed in the premise.
Monte’s Rating 3.00 out of 5.00