By Shane M. Dallmann
There’s this to be said at the very beginning: the trailers for AS ABOVE, SO BELOW managed to give us the gist of the movie without revealing any of the actual backstory… all I knew going in was “Paris catacombs, entrance to Hell.” So I was rather pleasantly surprised at the beginning when the latest from John Erick Dowdle (QUARANTINE, DEVIL) placed us back in Harry Potter territory with the legend of Nicholas Flamel and the study of alchemy… a family pursuit of a gifted young professor by the name of Scarlett (Perdita Weeks). After risking life and limb uncovering a soon-to-be-demolished secret in the Middle East, she finds herself on the trail of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone; and with the help of a reluctant assistant, some young local “tour guides” and (sigh) her ever-present documentarian…
Okay. The film begins interestingly enough, and I’ll also say (without spoilers) that the ultimate resolution of the film is well-handled and original for this type of thriller. Unfortunately, “this type of thriller” is simply yet another “found footage” expedition in which the footage couldn’t actually have been “found.” Multiple characters have “pen cameras” in their lighted headbands, so we can switch perspective whenever we like; and if you’re prone to vertigo and nausea (luckily, I’m not) with hand/head-held “shaky-cam” footage, you’re going to particularly hate this one.
My problem with AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is that despite the earnest research and thought that went into creating the situation in the first place (which at the very least gives us some NATIONAL TREASURE-type puzzle solving sequences which hold reasonable interest), once you get into the catacombs, it’s the same old weary thing yet again. Some potentially intriguing preliminary material (focus on a strange young lady on the outside who turns up leading a weird chanting cult in the passages) is completely forgotten, and all we have left is a series of incidents in which the crew is knocked off one by one while being haunted by visions of their deepest fears and guilt… never mind THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT–I liked this one “hell” of a lot better when it was called EVENT HORIZON.
You might find it strange to see me complaining about overly familiar material when I just praised THE NOVEMBER MAN for being formula that worked, but as far as I’m concerned, the majority of this movie simply DOESN’T work because I couldn’t have cared less what happened to anybody in it and because the f.f. technique comes with its own pre-set limits (essentially, you can get away with one or two “boo” scares and that’s pretty much it these days). Had the Brothers Dowdle (Drew contributed to the screenplay) fashioned this as a straight-up narrative film and NOT as a mock-doc, this could have worked and worked very well. As it turned out, I spent the majority of the running time bored out of my skull.