AS ABOVE/ SO BELOW: Needed more than alchemy to make this film work



As Above/ So Below (dir. John Erick Dowdle)
The Parisian catacombs are due to be featured in a great horror film. Unfortunately, AS ABOVE/ SO BELOW is not that film.
The massive underground cemetery has everything that would make for a great film setting. There are skulls and bones aplenty, tunnels that meander endlessly, and being underground feels like the walls may close in on you at any moment. This foreboding setting is nicely featured in the film, but the organic nature of these frights is the best part of the film.
The found-footage film follows a small team of explorers who are looking for the Philosopher’s Stone and alchemist Nicolas Flamel’s grave. (Never did I think my Harry Potter knowledge would help me understand the plot of a horror film, but here we are.) After looking for clues in Iran and various other dangerous locations the trail has led to the catacombs. Gathering a team of local miscreants who are willing to take our researchers into the forbidden areas of the catacombs and more folks are outfitted with cameras we set off on the subterranean adventure.
Who these characters are and what their histories are is completely irrelevant. None of them are indispensable, nor do they drive the plot forward. Approaching the film expecting more of a general venue for creepy sets and screaming twenty-something may be the only way that is will live up to expectations.  What does keep this film chugging along—barely—is jump scares and unsettling visuals. There are some great scares in the film which had the audience to do literally jumping out of their seat and screaming, but not one of these moments had anything with the story in the film.
Though I found the scares in the film more fun than expected, I hated that this film is a perfect example of what is wrong with wide-release horror. The film had no heart. Not a single character was easy to empathize with, or even to root for. The film was entirely populated with stereotypes and one-dimensional people whose deaths were merely a matter of time. The setting and scares were incongruous. Audiences want more than a grab-bag of frights. There are certainly filmmakers out there who want to make those films too. When will studios figure out that these two want the same things and start throwing money behind the right directors?
The bottom line is that AS ABOVE/ SO BELOW is an underground haunted house, with plenty of skulls, and a throwaway plot. Unless you are looking for a jumpy flick where you can check your brain at the cinema’s door, you can pass on this one.

Deirdre Crimmins

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Deirdre (Dede) lives in Chicago (via Boston and Cleveland) with two black cats. She writes for Film Thrills, High Def Digest, The Brattle Theater, Rue Morgue Magazine, Birth.Movies.Death., and anyone else who will let her drone on about genre film. She wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero and is always hopeful that Hollywood will get its head out of its ass.

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