Underneath the streets of Paris are located kilometres of catacombs, the burial place of countless number of souls. When a group of mystery investigators decides to enter the largely unexplored and uncharted labyrinth of bones, little they know that they may find more than they were looking for. Directed by John Erick Dowdle, director of Devil (2010) and Quarantine (2009), the English language remake of Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [REC] (2007), from a script co-written with brother Drew Dowdle, As Above, So Below tries to reach deep into human psyche to discover demons what torments any of us but instead delivers little more than a fairground ghost ride.
Rebellious treasure hunter and brilliant archaeologist Scarlett Marlow (Perdita Weeks) has dedicated her entire life to continuing her father’s work and finding the philosopher’s stone. According to the legend the stone can change any metal into gold and grants eternal life, but Scarlett does not desire those things; instead, tormented by her father’s death and rumours about his sanity, she wants to finish his work and share his research regarding the legendary stone.
A recent discovery made in Iran leads Scarlett to believe that the stone is buried in the Paris catacombs along with the French alchemist Nicholas Flamel with whom the stone was associated in accounts centuries after his death. To document her discovery she recruits her ex lover and friend George (Ben Feldman), cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge) who suffers from claustrophobia and a group of unofficial “tour guides” who claim to know the secrets of undercity.
Yet another film from the overused found footage subgenre of horror, even accepting that any educated scientist would have an interest in alchemy other than as an academic diversion, surprisingly at the beginning As Above, So Below works well, justifying the presentation of the narrative from first person perspective with cameras attached to the heads of the characters and creating a ubiquitous claustrophobic feeling akin to Neil Marshall‘s obviously influential Descent, but as the story progresses and the inherent restrictions of found footage become more apparent Dowdle abandons the conventions he has chosen to follow and drifts towards more conventional cinema.
Unlike the characters most often depicted in found footage, the characters are pleasant and sufficiently interesting to superficially engage the viewer but lack the depth to carry the themes of sin and redemption. Without presenting their past lives, that thread only brings more commotion to already chaotic action which the camera struggles to follow in an overambitious but ultimately superficial movie.
With a backstory more suited to National Treasure or Indiana Jones, ideas never explored through the conventions of found footage convention, had the creators stuck to the well charted path of action-adventure cinema, which the better half of the movie provides, they would not have become lost in the hubristic sin of their own ambition. Despite the presumption of depth, As Above, So Below is not a game changer which transmutes lead into gold but rather the momentary distraction of fool’s gold.
As Above, So Below offers more as an adventure movie with fast paced action, elaborate puzzles and treasures hidden behind trap doors, but the transition into horror requires the previously intelligent characters to start making stupid decisions as the story rushing into the darkness, dropping story threads rather than breadcrumbs to trace their path back, investigating the dead end of strange noises, flickering lights, tired tactics seen so many times they neither shock nor inspire, dark figures walking in shadows.