AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is a found-footage horror flick from Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures — the first film in their new five-year partnership. Directed by John Erick Dowdle and co-written with his brother Drew, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW follows a group of explorers as they hunt for a fabled artifact within the maze of catacombs underneath Paris.
The Brothers Dowdle were behind the films QUARANTINE and DEVIL; a recognizable fact considering the similar style that those films (especially the former) were shot in. Using the found-footage gimmick that’s been popular with the horror genre since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s release in 1999, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW’s camerawork flips and flops all over the place. It’s probably one of the quicker found-footage films that I’ve ever seen — as in the camera is turning and spinning so quick at times, you might as well just close your eyes and go by the sounds to understand what’s happening.
The film tells the story of a young British scholar named Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) who’s been searching for the Philosopher’s Stone for years. It was her late father’s goal in life to find it, so she took on his quest after he passed. Alongside Scarlett is documentarian and cameraman, Benji (Edwin Hodge), and George (Ben Feldman) — someone who has a personal history with her.
When their exploration brings them to France, they enlist the help of three French spelunkers who specialize in navigating the tunnels of the underground catacombs. Once they’ve arrived within a previously undiscovered cavern system, some rocks come down and the entrance collapses. Naturally, the only way out is to go deeper, so the team descends into the dark depths in search of an exit.
The film seems to owe a lot to Neil Marshall’s 2005 claustrophobic blood-fest, THE DESCENT. Both films feature a team of explorers underground; both stuck and driven to go deeper into the earth. Each film provides hellish creatures that appear when the teams descend further and both have a lead female protagonist who starts out weak, but quickly becomes a strong-willed heroine. There’s even a scene in AS ABOVE, SO BELOW where Scarlett falls into a pool of blood — a page torn directly out of THE DESCENT’s book.
While AS ABOVE, SO BELOW really does nothing new to push the genre forward, it’s honestly quite entertaining. The first-person camera views won’t be for those with a weak stomach, but they are quite effective in that they accelerate the terror that the characters are experiencing. Just like with QUARANTINE, Dowdle has succeeded in putting together a bunch of unknown actors and having them give remarkable, believable performances.
Perdita Weeks was easily the standout of the film. I loved her portrayal of Scarlett. In a lot of ways, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW almost seems like a found-footage TOMB RAIDER film. Weeks would be a great Lara Croft and her character’s quest to unearth a hidden artifact would perfectly fit into the TOMB RAIDER mythology. Add to that the fact that Scarlett is British and walks around with her long, brown hair in a ponytail the entire time, it’s almost as if this was supposed to be a TOMB RAIDER film at one point in time.
The overall atmosphere of the film would be the next standout. AS ABOVE, SO BELOW plays off the fear of claustrophobia just as well as THE DESCENT — maybe even better. The film’s score is booming and just as horrifying as the images on the screen. The creature designs were very well-done, too, and sometimes made it feel like I was playing a horror game like SILENT HILL. They were that creepy.
Really, my only gripe would be that found-footage gimmick. It’s been used so often lately and I really think that this film could’ve benefited more without it. When the camera gets shaky, it gets really shaky and I think that’ll turn off a lot of its viewers. Nevertheless, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is still a good horror flick that most fans of the genre should enjoy. It’s just one that’ll most likely become forgettable.