As Above, So Below

A scare-less found footage riff on The Descent

As Above, So Below


Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Starring Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Perdita Weeks. Written by Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle.

So, so below. The latest in the seemingly endless marathon of found footage horror films, As Above, So Below has a great premise (albeit one cribbed from The Descent), an interesting supernatural concept, a cast containing professional actors, and a genuine storyline. All tough to come by for the found footage genre. 

And it’s still nearly unwatchable. 

Welsh actress Perdita Weeks (The Invisible Woman) stars as Scarlett Marlowe, an alchemy scholar continuing in her father’s footsteps by searching for … the philosopher’s stone. Right. The philosopher’s stone is a favorite device across a number of works of fiction, but the target audience for this film will know it from Harry Potter

In search of the stone, Scarlett and Benji (Edwin Hodge, The Purge), an American cameraman following her journey for a documentary, recruit Scarlett’s old friend George (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman) to in the claustrophobic catacombs beneath Paris. OK – this is a pretty cool premise. 

To guide them, the trio hires local catacomb spelunkers Papillon (François Civil), Souxie (Marion Lambert) and Zed (Ali Marhyar). Their payment? Half of the “treasure” that Scarlett is able to convince them exists down there in about twenty seconds. Six dumb kids heading into the darkness to their certain doom? Perfect. 

The problem: it ain’t scary. Or creepy. Or interesting in any way whatsoever.

There are fleeting supernatural elements during the first half of the film, but the characters seem to be strangely disinterested in them. In the film’s opening sequence, Scarlett captures what appears to be the ghost of her dead father on film, and then never mentions it for the rest of the movie. The stone – that’s what’s interesting. Who cares about all this supernatural stuff. 

Throughout the first half of the film, there’s nary a scare in sight: as the characters travel down into the caves, it’s business as usual except for one claustrophobic scene in which a character is wedged between a wall and a sea of bones (‘human remains’, we’re told, but they’re all standard cartoon femur bones). 

That one sequence brought back memories of Neil Marshall’s incredibly suspenseful The Descent, but it’s the only scene of its kind in the entire movie. The rest of the catacombs seem luxuriously spacey, despite walls continually crumbling behind the characters. They don’t care much about their safety, or how they’re going to make it out alive; “we need to go deeper!” becomes the film’s mantra, leading up to it’s ridiculous conclusion. 

Later on, the movie trots out what appear to be undead stone monsters, along with the Grim Reaper. That sounds interesting, but they each get about two seconds of screentime before the screen becomes a swirling mess of darkness, rock walls, and our character’s now-terrified faces as they run away in a panic. By the climax, when the movie finally trots out a few lame jump scares, it has lost us: this is another Dyatlov Pass Incident

Director John Erick Dowdle previously made Quarantine, an effective remake of the Spanish [Rec], and the silly but highly entertaining Devil, which was scripted by M. Night Shyamalan. His skills seem to have deserted him here. 

Films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project succeed because they use the found footage concept to heighten the sense of realism: there’s a concept of reality, and the supernatural, and filmmaking helps us buy into the character’s journey into the unexplained. Here, neither the filmmakers nor the characters care about that journey. Nor does the audience. 

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