The best way to explain a new movie to someone who hasn’t yet seen it is to compare it to popular, well-known movies from the past, as that quickly and easily paints a picture in the mind of a cinematic experience that hasn’t yet been experienced.
Going with that line of thinking, the best way I can describe As Above, So Below is that it’s The Goonies meets Event Horizon, fusing together the adventurous fun of the former and the mind-fuck horror of the latter.
And with that mash-up comparison, I can be pretty sure that your interest is now piqued. As well it should be.
Written/directed by brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle, the team behind Quarantine and Devil, the awkwardly-titled As Above, So Below centers on the character of Scarlett, who is, in essence, a female Indiana Jones (Indiana… Joan?).
A fearless adventurer on a never-ending quest for truth and knowledge, Scarlett is on the hunt for an ancient stone with untold powers, determining through much research and riddle-solving that it lies beneath the streets of Paris. Convincing a group of fellow explorers to join her, the adult Goonies head deep into the underground catacombs, discovering a terrifying secret that lies below the surface.
Yes, As Above, So Below is another in a long line of POV/’found footage’ horror movies, but the joy of the film is that it’s not quite like the others. Trading in the typical haunted house or some such other haunted location for a hellish underground cave system ripped straight out of The Descent, this particular entry in the sub-genre is refreshing enough to feel different, the unique setting impressively serving to break the inherent ‘I can’t tell this one apart from the others’ curse of found footage horror.
The star of the show here is not the characters and it’s truthfully not even the story. While both are totally serviceable and more than get the job done, the highlight here is the underground setting of the film, which brings a whole lot of that wonderful A-word to the proceedings; ATMOSPHERE, of course.
Atmosphere is an element that’s often nonexistent in modern horror films and As Above, So Below has got it in spades, the underground caverns very much feeling like a hellish abyss that there’s simply no escape from. I’m surprised it took someone this long to make a movie about the real-life Catacombs of Paris and As Above mines that atmospheric setting for all it’s worth, imbuing the entirety of the movie with a claustrophobic creepiness that’s quite frankly a delight to be immersed in.
Immersion is really the name of the game here, with the found footage style making the film feel like a virtual haunted attraction from start to finish, all sorts of creepy shit popping up once the real horror element comes into play. I’m talking Grim Reapers, dead loved ones and even vampiric rock monsters – essentially, everything you’d hope to encounter in those glorious haunted houses that are erected in your area around Halloween time.
While the Event Horizon comparison is thanks to the latter half’s more horrific elements, which thrust each character into his/her own personal Hell, it’s the Goonies-like first half that pleasantly surprised me, as the film is packed with a whole lot of good old fashioned adventure.
From hidden wall panels to riddles that can either kill or aid in the journey, As Above, So Below is as much of an adventure film as it is a horror film, and the fusion of the two keeps the movie engaging and entertaining every single step of the way. There’s literally not a dull moment to be found here, which is a whole lot more than can be said about most found footage movies.
Though it doesn’t exactly reinvent the POV wheel, and though the ending admittedly provides little payoff for the sheer madness that precedes it (the intended message was appreciated, however), As Above, So Below is nevertheless one of the better ‘found footage’ films in recent years, and in fact one of the better theatrically released horror films to come along in some time.
Rather than relying on the cliches of the sub-genre to tell its story, this little gem instead tells its own story while merely using the style as a storytelling aide, the film serving as a reminder that it’s not the style that’s bad, but rather the rampant poor execution of it. It’s unique and it totally stands apart from the pack, which is plenty enough to earn a recommendation from this particular fan.
The title is silly, and I sincerely hated speaking it aloud at my local theater last night, but As Above, So Below is a pretty damn solid horror flick, well worth you calling out its name at your local theater and plopping down the money to experience it.
So buy the ticket. Take the ride.