Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence/Terror, and Language throughout
Directed by: John Erick Dowdle
Written by: Drew Dowdle & John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert & Ali Marhyar
Directors and writers need to stop thinking a horror flick will automatically be successful if they use a creepy location. It doesn’t work that way. Having a real life setting will not make up for a poorly thought out storyline that betrays its own logic and tests the viewer’s patience. Remember CHERNOBYL DIARIES? I barely can recall that movie and those who can probably wish it would be wiped from their minds. This is the same fate that will undoubtedly befall AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is another found footage horror flick. The key difference here is that an adventure element is added with a kind of supernatural overtone (Hell) that really haven’t been seen in this format. We follow Scarlett Marlowe hunting for a legendary element called the Philosopher’s Stone (yes, the same bit of folklore used in the first HARRY POTTER movie). She’s documenting the steps in her journey via cameras and has recently come across new clues that reveal the stone’s location. It’s underneath the streets of Paris in a hidden tunnel from the catacombs. Doing what all dumbass explorers do, she rounds up a group of fellow historians and treasure-hungry thrill-seekers to venture under the city’s largest mass grave. Weird things start happening (e.g. odd sounds, creepy visions) and it turns out the group may have stumbled upon the gates of Hell. As one might expect, the bodies pile up and past sins come back to haunt the group as they desperately search for a way back to the surface.
The cast and crew behind AS ABOVE, SO BELOW aren’t necessarily the most well-known names in the business. The cast is made of no-names. I only somewhat recognized one performer and he turned out to be Victim #5 from the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. The Dowdle brothers (both wrote, one directed) have dabbled with the horror genre in the past. They put together 2010’s underwhelming DEVIL and have produced two other found footage flicks (the lame remake of REC called QUARANTINE and the oft-delayed disappointing POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES). Though they haven’t scared me in the past, I was willing to give AS ABOVE, SO BELOW a chance because found footage tackling the gates of Hell looked pretty damned interesting. The bland characters, iffy performances, shaky directing (pun fully intended), and bad script prove this to be a disappointment.
The complaint of why characters keep using their cameras in chaos can be leveled at nearly every film in the found footage subgenre. With AS ABOVE, SO BELOW, it’s doubling irritating. I can understand Scarlett documenting her expedition to find a legendary artifact, but that’s no reason to set up four other head-cams on different characters. It’s how we get different angles I guess. Also, the question remains of how this footage was compiled together. It’s the same plot hole that APOLLO 18 had. Technically that footage should still be floating in space and this footage should be rotting underneath 700 feet of Earth. Another big complaint is how drawn out the flick is. The Dowdle brothers takes their sweet time getting to the actual belly of the beast (gates of Hell). It should have been titled INDIANA JONES AND THE CATACOMBS OF SATAN, because this is an adventure flick with supernatural elements. When that satanic stuff comes, it’s sporadic and the film never fully launches into the unrelenting scarefest that it should have become.
Things go from bad to worse when the final third completely abandons the approach of past sins haunting characters in deadly ways. Instead (as slightly shown in the trailers), the viewer is treated to rock people in monk hoods. It’s as dumb as it sounds. Also a SPOILER here (though I may be doing you a favor), this is the only found footage movie I’ve seen that ends with a happy note. I dig when stories try to diverge from a well-trodden formula, but by virtue of the fact this is indeed a found footage horror story. The audience knows it’s not going to end well walking into the theater and expect to be sent on out on a shiver-inducing final shot. Here, the movie ends with an overly corny reveal (I rolled my eyes multiple times and nearly groaned out loud in the theater). What makes things even more disappointing is that there are a handful of spooky scenes involving the past tragedies killing characters in neat ways. There were some good moments and that makes the bad ones (most of the movie) stick out even more.
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW has an interesting premise that hasn’t been done before in found footage or fully committed to film since 1980’s Lucio Fulci. There was a lot of room to make this one scary in so many ways. I wasn’t expecting the most terrifying experience of the year, but was expecting to either have fun or be freaked out. Instead, a pace that moves slower than a tortoise on Quaaludes botches the build-up. The characters are bland and I was expecting every one of them to meet a creative fate (it was not to be). The final third ruins any goodwill that a horror fanatic (or general filmgoer) might possibly have garnered for this flick. This is a disappointment!