I don’t go to the cinema often. Tickets are becoming more and more expensive which I realize makes me sound much older, but because of that, I try to only see movies that I will enjoy. I made my way into the Piccadilly Circus area for a 2:30p showing of As Above, So Below. The theater was completely empty five minutes before curtain with only five others trickling in during the credits, and even for a matinee showing, the ticket was £15 ($24).
I settled in for this low-budget horror film that all takes place in The Catacombs which I had just recently ventured through in Paris. I was intrigued by the filmmakers’ ability to film underground in the real attraction and how they were going to make a film out of it for $5 million. But also, many of the projects I find myself working with relates to Dante’s Inferno or the seven deadly sins, again grabbing my attention to this film.
The film centers around Scarlett Marlowe, a sort of female Indiana Jones, who is on a mission to find the Philosopher’s Stone and prove her father’s theories on the subject. All arrows point to The Catacombs as she recruits a rag-tag team including her scored ex-lover and a few French cataphiles who agree to take her into the depths of this mass grave.
Told in a mockumentary style not unlike The Blair Witch Project, the audience follows this team deeper and deeper into this hell as they have to face their own demons to get out. As any horror film formula goes, there are those who do not get out alive due to the seriousness of their earthy sins which aren’t spelled out to the audience, thankfully. Finally a film that does not explicitly detail every single thing out. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t overly explain some elements for the passive watchers.
It is glaringly apparent halfway through the film they are no longer in the earthy catacombs, but every corner and sentence has to reiterate the seriousness of their situation. Between the claustrophobic walls and objects from their pasts, we are beat over the head with the symbolism. However, toward the last third of the film is where it really started to lose me.
I was scared enough as it was with the prospect of this being Dante’s Inferno as described in his 1300s masterpiece. But as the physical demons began to appear in multiple forms, one specifically being a stone work zombie, I found myself taken out completely and nearly laughing. The other demons wrapped in black cloaks reminding me of a witch hunt or scene out of Eyes Wide Shut were also rather comical with their blank stares and gaunt make up.
I truly believe that if the climbers were faced with situations instead of physical beings, it would have been a stronger piece with more tension and psychological scares. As the group turns a corner, a large car is ablaze. At first, the team tries to reconcile with the fact there is a car several hundred feet underground, but then it becomes apparent this is a sin someone has committed and he must be punished for it. Brilliant. Honestly, I loved that. I wasn’t told everything and it tied Dante in perfectly. I truly wish they had kept with that simplicity.
The other thing that threw me out of the film was their quest for the philosopher’s stone. I realize this is a real legend dating back to the 1400s with a stone that was believed to contain the elixir of life. However, with each mention of this stone and even the name Nicolas Flamel, I couldn’t help but flash straight over to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I realize J. K. Rowling also took this legend for her multi-million dollar franchise, but with something so tied to something so recognizable in the world, I would have suggested another legend to focus on in this film.
As Above, So Below had so much going for it. I was looking forward to seeing this film and enjoying the Dante and Catacombs element, but it left me wondering what the film would have been if it didn’t rely so heavily on obvious scares and formulaic structure. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules, especially in horror.
2.5 out of 5 stars