Impressions: As Above, So Below

As Above, So Below is a found footage horror film, following a group trying to reach part of the catacombs under Paris to find the philosopher’s stone. There was actually a lot of hype surrounding this 2014 horror film, mainly because so much of the film was actually shot in the catacombs which due to the difficulty in getting permission from the government, and the challenges presented by the catacombs themselves, is not a common occurrence. I had personally missed a lot of the buzz surrounding the film but saw that it was highly recommended, especially for fans of The Descent. After finally seeing it I am left… disappointed.

The movie follows Scarlett who is a young but brilliant archaeologist/alchemist on a quest to finish her father’s work after he committed suicide, so you know, Lara Croft. She teams up with George and Benji as they follow her around trying to discover where the stone might be, and ultimately decide on the catacombs in Paris. Because they have to go off the beaten path, they also group up with people that like to explore the catacombs for notoriety.

Not long into their journey, they experience a cave in, and suddenly everything seems to go a bit odd. Nothing in the catacombs is as it seems, and slowly what started as just a claustrophobic journey becomes something more nightmarish.

The idea of this movie is solid. Even with Scarlett’s less than original backstory, it’s still interesting. Also playing with the catacombs themselves as a horror setting is clever. The problem is that the movie not fleshed out enough, so the execution doesn’t land.

Once the group gets into the catacombs things, move quickly, and the end result is a loss of tension and suspense. The movie is a long build-up to a final climax, and I have spoken about this before. It can work, but in order to do so, that climax has to pack a hell of a punch. As Above is lacking in punch.

We are only really given the background for Scarlett so when things start going to hell (kind of literally), it’s hard to really care for the other characters. We are given brief overviews then something haunting happens to them, but the impact is lacking. Oh, it’s sad that a character is being confronted by their guilt, but as I have little knowledge of that guilt, I am left with more questions than emotions.

There also seems to be some confusion with the direction the movie wanted to go. Not in that people question whether or not it’s a “true horror movie” (I dislike those debates), but rather if it was a movie about alchemy or about hell. I am not saying these two themes can’t come together, the movie almost does succeed, only that this movie suffers from a bit of a disconnect. It’s alchemy alchemy alchemy, bam Dante’s Inferno. There is very little flow from one to the other, and no details are really given as to why we are supposed to connect the two. In the end, it felt like the movie wanted to do an esoteric gates of hell thing, which was interesting but didn’t really attempt to explain why we went from the philosopher’s stone to that particular journey.

Again, it comes down to the movie just not being fleshed out enough. It had clear goals of what was meant to happen and what was meant to have an impact, but what fills the in-between is not enough to really carry the movie.

All that being said, there are still some cool things happening. Again the catacombs are the perfect place for a horror movie to be set in. I question how they ultimately used that setting, but applaud the attempts to do so. Also choosing to film in the catacombs served well with many of the more claustrophobic scenes. Much like The Descent (a movie it’s compared to) this movie makes the viewer feel trapped because so much of the filming was done in an almost trapped way.

The idea of them journeying through part of hell a-la Inferno was cool and made for some truly great visuals and terrifying moments. It’s just the audience has to wait far too long for them, and they are over too quickly.

So what’s my bottom-line? I was ultimately let down by this movie. It’s not bad, I would argue worth at least one watch, but there is not enough tension and suspense early in the movie to make waiting for the climax worthwhile. Also as mentioned the climax does not hit hard enough. I think with about 30 more minutes added to the runtime this could have been a more developed movie. It’s disappointing because again some of the things that do happen once they are “walking through hell” are just awesome, so it gives a glimpse at what could have been a genuinely great movie. In the end, it’s an alright one, but not one I can be as excited about as some of my fellow horror fans.

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