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I Saw As Above/So Below
September 10, 2014Posted by on
Had I known that As Above/So Below, the latest found footage cheapie horror film from John Eric Dowdle (who also brought us 2008’s Quarantine) was indeed another found footage horror film, the chances of me seeing it in theaters would have been almost nonexistent. I didn’t catch any marketing for the film outside of a few posters in movie houses over the summer. I never saw a trailer and I didn’t see any tv spots either. If you had told me it was a direct-to-dvd movie, I would have readily accepted that and believed you on the spot. I caught As Above/So Below in theaters by chance over the long Labor Day holiday weekend with a friend, and despite a few good ideas, the film ultimately is a mixed bag – a few good ideas kept me entertained, but it failed otherwise.
Featuring Ben Feldman (tv’s Mad Men) and English actress Perdita Weeks in the lead roles, As Above/So Below is the story of a group of young scholars and their urban exploration enthusiast tour guides who search the catacombs of Paris for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, which they believe will give them the power to transmute lead into gold. Along the way, they run across supernatural powers, chanting cultists, legitimately cool ancient ruins, and various evil elements keeping them from their ultimate goal. The best part about the story is the setting – the catacombs of Paris make for a great backdrop (I’m a sucker for this kind of claustrophobic environment in a movie). The actual story, however, fails to live up to the potential of awesome and disturbing catacombs.
I’m not a big fan of found footage horror films. The best one out there is probably Cloverfield, though it’s not even a really good movie either (and it’s also arguably not even a horror film). The genre doesn’t appeal to me at all, but it has been fairly consistently popular for the past half-decade and change. As Above/So Below incorporates a few interesting ideas and some genuinely cool sets, but doesn’t go far enough to set itself apart creatively. Characters are mostly stock and forgettable, with few distinguishing characteristics. Some are set up as having tragic backstories, but there is never really much of a satisfying pay-off. The found footage element means it is far too often difficult to see what’s going on, which makes this low budget film (it was shot for about five million dollars) appear even cheaper.
Though I admired a few elements of As Above/So Below, I ultimately have a difficult time recommending it, especially when the price of a theater ticket is factored in. The film does a few things to set itself apart from a crowded genre (I actually like the idea of a search for the Philosopher’s Stone quite a bit), but it ultimately failed to endear itself to me. It’s not scary enough, the characters aren’t well defined, and the ending is far too abrupt. I understand why studios commission these sorts of films – they’re cheap enough that they present almost zero economic risk. I just hope that the creative minds behind them can incorporate a few more interesting elements next time.