With Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert. Written by Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle. Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Rated R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout. 93 minutes.
Have you ever gone on an amusement park ride that was essentially about moving through the dark, hearing eerie noises, and having things jump out at you? If so, you’ll be right at home with AS ABOVE SO BELOW, which not only has all those elements, but has the exact same depth of plot and character. At some point, the filmmakers give up all together and just throw things at us until the film finally limps to its conclusion.
It starts off promisingly, in spite of being yet another “found footage” point-of-view movie. (Some viewers will complain of getting headaches from the shaky camerawork and choppy editing.) Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is an academic continuing her late father’s work in the study of alchemy. Alchemy, we’re told, was the medieval precursor to actual science, whose practitioners were obsessed with finding the Philosopher’s Stone.
Yes, this was actually something that predated Harry Potter. The Philosopher’s Stone, so it was believed, could transmute base metals into gold, had healing powers, and could grant eternal life. In the prologue Scarlett has sneaked into Iran to see some ancient writings in a cave which she believes will allow her to translate a French tombstone to find out where the Stone is. Oh, and the cave is minutes away from being blown up with everything in it destroyed.
Of course, this makes little sense, but if you’re willing to go with it you can stick with the film for a bit longer. Back in Paris, Scarlett enlists the assistance of George (Ben Feldman) who can translate Aramaic but whom she once left in a Turkish jail when a previous adventure went wrong. Also along for the ride is Benji (Edwin Hodge), who is arranging to film their journey. When she realizes they have to get into the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris–essentially a vast network of tunnels that was used as an underground cemetery–she gets the assistance of Papillon (François Civil), an expert on the catacombs.
The bulk of the film takes place with them in the dark, dank tunnels. There are cave-ins. There are bones. There’s water and secret passageways and weird people who show up for no reason… Indeed, at this point you can pretty much forget about a story where anything makes sense. People come and go, mysterious figures appear with little explanation, and when we get that little explanation near the end it’s unsatisfying and doesn’t really explain very much.
So as a horror story where you care about the story or characters, the film is a complete waste of time. However, if you like those amusement park rides, or want to enjoy the feeling of claustrophobia from the comfort of a roomy movie theater, “As Above So Below” does say “boo!” often enough to provide a few jolts or nervous laughs. There may be an interesting story about what exists under the streets of Paris. Unfortunately, this film isn’t it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.