As Above, So Below immediately recalls memories of other films, such as the underwater, cave-dwelling Sanctum, and the far-superior Descent, which focused on conversations between characters while they were trapped in equally-nonlinear caves.”

by Steve Pulaski

Whatever miniscule shred of curiosity I had to explore lost cities of the underworld through narrow passageways below the surface of the Earth has eroded after seeing As Above, So Below. The film involves two ambitious college students (Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman), who romanticize the idea of what could be located in the catacombs beneath Paris, and decide to locate a few guys in a Parisian nightclub to take them spelunking underneath the city. It isn’t until they travel so deep into the catacombs, wedging themselves through tight spaces and nonlinear passageways, that they discover visions of their past that begin to haunt them and toy with them in every way possible. All they wanted to do was find reportedly lost treasure; what they got was an experience worth yet another found-footage film.

As Above, So Below immediately recalls memories of other films, such as the underwater, cave-dwelling Sanctum, and the far-superior Descent, which focused on conversations between characters while they were trapped in equally-nonlinear caves. I used to believe the beauty in these kinds of one-setting, claustrophobic horror films was that, because they are limited geographically, they have to loan themselves to developing the next potential thing, which is character relations and dialog, two things that are often forgotten in horror films. However, with the cheapening of the horror genre by countless found footage films that take the opportunity to obscure and muddle all the events rather than taking that next step I mentioned, that kind of optimism is crushed on arrival when one witnesses how many found footage horror films choose to present themselves in their first few minutes.

As Above, So Below
Directed by
John Erick Dowdle
Cast
Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge
Release Date
29 August 2014
Steve’s Grade: D

As Above, So Below is more interested in showing its interesting and potential-ridden setting through a lens of obscurity, often lacking in proper lighting and camera stability in order to give the depiction of the catacombs of France the level of visual clarity they deserve. It’s automatically understood that underlit places like the catacombs are difficult to film accordingly, given the tight conditions and the low amount of natural lighting. However, when the camera is consistently shaking, warding off all hope and idea of time and placement, that’s when a film descends into mediocrity. One of the most important aspects of a film is being able to see what’s going on, and As Above, So Below fails to cater to that necessity quite frequently.


Yet, when we can see what is occurring in the film, we realize we’ve been granted with a psychotic acid trip of a subterranean horror movie. This is the Insidious: Chapter 2 of found-footage horror films, being narratively wacky and sometimes frustratingly chaotic in an attempt to be frightening or scary. Even in a sea of indifference, two particular scenes stuck out to me as fantastic in the film. One involves a character being stuck between dozens of human bones and a wall, with the character being stuck on his stomach and only able to move his head and lightly kick his legs. The scene is terrifying because director John Erick Dowdle chooses to keep us, the audience, stuck with this character, and the entire scene takes on a new life after that. Another great scene comes when the characters enter a chamber and are deafened by an ear-piercing sound coming from who knows where? The commonality between these two scenes is that we are positioned in the center of what’s occurring and can clearly see what is happening. Most of the time, we are as lost in the characters, and not in the good way.

There’s little to say about As Above, So Below because there’s very little to invest in: the characters feel one-dimensional and simple, their goals are difficult to describe and articulate, the visuals are all a muddle, so even the cinematography cannot be credited as a buoy to the film’s quality, and the environments of the film are far too underlit to appreciate. This is the last thing I’d expect from director Dowdle, who impressed me ten-fold with his film The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a film that was advertised quite ubiquitously in 2008 before mysteriously being pulled from theaters, never to be released theatrically or commercially on DVD. I found a copy years later on the internet and just had to dive into a four-year-long curiosity. If you ask me, the film that should’ve had the aforementioned fate is the one in theaters now.