Review: As Above, So Below (2014)
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Screenwriters: John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle
Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro & Hamid Djavadan
Runtime: 93 min // Certificate: 15
If there’s one thing even more frustrating than a dreadful film, it’s one that flirts with greatness, only to squander it at almost every possible opportunity. As Above, So Below – the new film from Devil director John Erick Dowdle – is one of those films; an infuriating yet enjoyable horror that almost manages to break free from all the trappings of its found-footage gimmick only to then surrender wholesale to the worst excesses of its genre in the final act, thus rendering it utterly forgettable.
Set primarily in the catacombs of Paris, As Above, So Below follows academic-cum-grave robber Scarlett (Weeks; The Invisible Woman) as she embarks on a search for the “Philosopher’s Stone”, an alchemical substance rumoured to also be an elixir of life. With the help of her reluctant companion George (Feldman; Cloverfield), her assistant Benji (Hodge; The Purge) and a team of French explorers, she makes her way deep into the secret catacombs beneath the city in search of the mythical object.
Like The Descent, a slick mid-noughties horror film from which this borrows just a little too liberally at times, As Above, So Below is a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare, and Dowdle does a decent job of ratcheting up the inherent horror of being confined in a small space where one sudden move could bring the entire structure crashing down on you. After a clunky but intriguing set-up, the film cranks up the tension and really gets into its stride as the group delve deeper into the unknown, only to lose its nerve completely and throw itself bodily on the mercy of blundering storytelling and lazy clichés in the final act. Within the space of a few minutes, as it becomes increasingly clear that Dowdle has run out of ideas, the horror turns to humour, the thrills turn to titters and the plot turns to dust.
It’s a particular shame too, because As Above, So Below starts out as a genuinely creepy – if never actually scary – little film that takes genuine pleasure in exploiting the fears of both its characters and the audience. Even as things start to turn completely wacky and the group descends into what one might describe as a “Hell of their own making”, there’s enough fun to be had watching them all clamber about in the dark. Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you’re left wondering why you bothered sticking with it in the first place.
Nonetheless, despite its sour conclusion and some unsophisticated writing, As Above, So Below is a fun horror film with just enough jumps and scares to keep the audience entertained. The performances are passable, the set design is commendable and the film races along at a pretty decent pace. It’s ultimately as generic as every other found-footage horror film of the past five years, sure, but at least it’s entertaining, which is about as much as you can ask for from the genre these days.