Review: As Above/So Below
Tomb Raider gets the found footage horror treatment in As Above, So Below, an esoterically-titled middling adventure that follows a smart, young, and beautiful scientist as she ventures into the Catacombs of Paris.
Buoyed by actual feelings of claustrophobia and powered by a bit of history, this haunted excursion into the depths of the Earth to search for some relic lacks any creativity. Riding too the coattails of the seemingly never-ending ‘documentary’ conceit, we get first person accounts of this trek into darkness and mystery that is never as scary as it could be.
Directed by John Erik Dowdle on a script he co-wrote with his brother Drew Dowdle, As Above runs in a myriad directions, trying to be psychologically chilling, physically uncomfortable, bloody disgusting, and historical interesting. Using the Catacombs of Paris, where six million people are buried and where terror can easily strike, is a brilliant start to a horror feature, but something more needs to happen (otherwise you’re just thinking, I’d just rather watch The Descent – which you should anyways).
Our heroine Lara – nay, Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is a courageous, determined, spunky adventurer bent on finding some stone or whatever that her father never could. He may have been driven mad by the quest, and he very much did kill himself. While in Paris followed by Benji, a young documentarian, Scarlett meets up with an old friend George and solicits the help of a trio of Parisian scamps.
So they go down – and down and down, as a quickly inconvenient cave-in and a wrong turn force them to go through that one place they guides told them they should never venture. Here there be ghosts!
Along the way Scarlett and George spout history and mythology and fantasy; between them they speak a bunch of languages, dead and alive, and at one point when they invoke Copernicus it’s just absurd.
These laugh out loud moments aren’t too frequent, but neither are the scares. While their crazy quest sort of seems a bit plausible – when there is only one way to go, it’s hard to question going, even when it sounds insane – the scares are all based on potential. The usually tricks are in place, from characters suddenly turning their heads to catch sight of something weird, or a figure walking by in the background, unbeknownst to the protagonist.
Then of course there is the shaky cam, employed whilst running, jumping, falling, and made all the more incomprehensible when characters are swimming.
The title is revealed midway through, and Scarlett offers up about a dozen meanings for the phrase, and none of them seem to be fully realized. Maybe the group has to keep venturing down in order to finally escape, but also their past comes back to scare them for some reason. And maybe the catacombs know the past? Except, we don’t really care too much about their past, so it’s not as frightening.
It spins out of control, though the ending is tense enough to keep you from realizing for a minute or two nothing makes sense. When it’s over, it’s sort of a question and not a statement of finality to this story.
Not much makes sense, and ultimately the film never realizes its full potential. I mean, when Scarlett explains that they are entering a tunnel adorned with the inscription for the gates of Hell, you really hope you are about to witness Hell. Ah, Paris.