Thinking back, it seems to me that I kind of meant to see As Above, So Below when it played theatrically “back” in 2014 (sorry, it still seems weird to even type that out), but for whatever reason I didn’t, but now that it’s out on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal (featuring widescreen picture, 5.1 surround sound, and a rather paltry selection of extras, chief among them a bog-standard “making-of” behind-the-scenes featurette) I really don’t have any excuses for skipping it, so I rented it the other evening and discovered that — well, I had the best excuse for skipping it all along, I just didn’t realize it : the flick sucks.
Coming our way courtesy of St. Paul’s Dowdle brothers (director/co-writer John Erick and co-writer Drew), who also gave us the reasonably decent (though nowhere near the level of the film it’s based on/ripped off from) Quarantine, and the surprisingly-good-considering-the-low-expectations-I-had-going-in Devil, this is probably one of those movies that really should work, given what a “natural” the Paris catacombs are for a horror story setting (they certainly made for a heck of an album cover for The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud back in the day), but ends up just being way too confused for its own good and reaching for several straws at once only to fail at grabbing any of them very firmly.
Unlike most of my fellow armchair movie scribes, “found footage” horror hasn’t completely worn me down yet, and a spate of decent releases in the past few years (Grave Encounters, Alien Abduction, The Conspiracy, Willow Creek — to name just a handful that I’ve reviewed on this very site) have given me a little bit of renewed faith in the genre, but once in awhile one of ’em comes along that proves all the nay-sayers have a point and that this whole “shaky-cam” thing maybe has seen its day. Los Bros Dowdle have given us a textbook example of that here, with a film that seems tired and well past its “sell-by” date before it even gets going.
Here are the plot particulars for those keeping score at home : multi- talented (and multi-degreed) super-grad-student Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is on a globe-spanning quest to find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone of the alchemists, a mythic treasure that essentially allows whoever possesses it to conjure up anything they want out of thin air. Her researches have led her to Paris, where she’s convinced it lies well below the ground (in those aforementioned catacombs to be precise), and through a combination of endless brow-beating and a bad-timing run in with the cops, she’s able to ensnare the help of long-time on-again/off-again friend George (Ben Feldman) to go along with her obviously-foolish-from-the-outset quest, which is being video-recorded in its entirety by her distressingly timid and gutless filmmaker pal Benji (Edwin Hodge). The trio enlists the services of a seasoned urban exploration team led by one Papillon (Francois Civil) and his apparent girlfriend Souxie (Marion Lambert), but they’re leery — a legendary local UrbExer who went by the handle of La Taupe (Cosme Castro) went missing down there a couple years back, and where Scalett wants to go is well “off the grid,” to use the lexicon popular in that subculture (hat tip to the fine Archaia comics mini series The Last Broadcast for teaching me a hell of a lot more about urban exploration than this flick did).
Still, the promise of a 50% cut of the “treasure” our heroine is after is enough to lure Papillon and his crew into the web, and what follows is about 90 minutes of goofy shit that can’t decide whether or not it wants to be The Descent underneath a city or an extended-length pilot for a modern Twilight Zone revival with a typical cautionary tale “be careful what you wish for” message as old childhood fears and tangentially-related historical poltergeists set upon our less-than-merry band once the Stone comes into their possession and they realize that, holy shit, it’s all real — but there’s probably a good reason it was buried away where nobody could get to it.
As with just about any horror flick, we’ve seen this done before and seen it done better, but in the case of As Above, So Below in particular we’ve seen it done so much better it’s not even funny. Most of the acting here is reasonably up to snuff and the Dowdles throw a few pleasing scares of the decidedly cheap variety our way, but in the end they’ve crafted nothing that’s especially memorable here and end up wasting two reasonably intriguing premises — urban exploration and pursuing the secrets of the alchemists — by unnecessarily mashing them together in the same story. You’ll tire of the whole thing well before the halfway point, but on the plus side you’ll forget about it almost entirely within ten minutes of it ending.