As Above/So Below – Film Review

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The Paris catacombs are fascinating.  The remains of roughly six million people are down there, scattered skulls and bones, decorating the walls of the underground caverns, arranged in such a way that a friend who once visited them described it all unfairly as a sick joke.

The ossuaries, the name given to the final resting place of human remains, are a bizarre curiosity.  Perhaps even more bizarre is the fact that since 1874, the underground cemetery has been a popular tourist attraction and is today listed as one of the fourteen City of Paris Museums.  To quote the homepage on the official website: The tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition and young children. No kidding.

As Above, So Below

But there are areas down there you can’t visit; blocked passages that lead to other areas considered unattainable for tourists; areas ripe for the imagination of horror aficionados in search of new ideas to explore, and that’s what the brothers Dowdle – John Erick and Drew – have done.  The independent filmmakers behind 2008’s Quarantine have taken their hand-helds and created what is initially a great idea, ripe for thrills and chills and a few boo moments and turned it into something practically unwatchable.

Told in the found-footage style of story-telling – yes, I know; yet another queasy inducing found-footage movie – As Above/So Below introduces us to Scarlett (Perdita Weeks).  Scarlett is a well educated though annoyingly persistent British tomb raider who tells the camera of her formidable qualifications and language skills, including her black belt in the martial arts, though we’ll never see any evidence of her claim.

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Leading a small team of Parisian explorers who are enticed with the notion of finding buried treasure, Scarlett breaks away from the regular tour and heads down the uncharted maze of claustrophobic tunnels in search of the magical Philosopher’s Stone, presumably the same one Harry Potter was searching for in his first adventure (changed to the Sorcerer’s Stone for American audiences).  But it’s a bad idea.  There are supernatural elements everywhere, and it’s not long before everyone in the team are facing their worst fears and nightmares made manifest by whatever power rules the dark tunnels of underground Paris.

What’s it like down there?” asks one character. “If you run out of batteries, you will die,” answers Souxie (Marion Lambert).

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Despite the alluring premise, As Above/So Below quickly dissolves into an unpleasant experience of overly shaky camerawork that never quits shaking.  The video recordings of the expedition are shot from tiny cameras attached to each person’s lighted headset, so while we get the advantage of several different points of view, the only time when we can actually catch our breath from the nauseous visuals is when someone temporarily takes their headset off and places it on the ground.  But more important, the story itself doesn’t really make sense.  Storytellers of low-budget horror appear to have lost the art of good storytelling; they present intriguing ideas, some scary and imaginative conflicts, but never feel the need to actually explain anything.  They’re getting away with murder.

MPAA Rating:  R       Length:  93 Minutes      Overall Rating:  3 (out of 10)

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