Look Out ‘Below’

‘Found-footage’ scare excursion is a subterranean mess

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As Above, So Below

Starring Perdita Weeks & Ben Feldman

Directed by John Erick Dowdle

Rated R

If young actors ever stop filming themselves going into creepy places, Hollywood’s going to be in a real pickle—filmmakers will have to come up with some other premise for movies like this one, in which yet another batch of 20-somethings go exploring somewhere goose-bumpy, “documenting” the whole thing from the get-go.

This “found footage” technique started back in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project and spawned an entire sub-genre of horror-movie filmmaking, wherein the video that the characters make is later “discovered” and becomes the movie itself.

In As Above, So Below, British actress Perdita Weeks plays Scarlett, a spunky, sexy young history buff-archeologist-adventurer-truth-seeker looking for the Philosopher’s Stone, an ancient fabled object supposedly endowed with magical and mystical properties, including the power to heal and turn objects into gold.

8H89_TP_00003RAll signs point Scarlett, her clue-deciphering friend George (Ben Feldman, who plays Michael Ginsberg on Mad Men), and their tag-along documentary filmmaker, Benji (Edwin Hodge), to the catacombs underneath Paris, the labyrinth of tunnels where some six million bodies have been interred for centuries. Linking up with a trio of cocky, graffiti-tagging French spelunkers, they dig in.

If you’re looking for good scares, you’ll have to wait a while; it takes a while to get going in the shock-o-rama department, and starts out much more in Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider mode. For the first hour or so, it’s all blah-blah and buildup, which adds a bit to the creep-out factor but will disappoint anyone expecting something scarier.

The explorers have to crawl through a narrow passageway full of bones; Benji freaks out and gets stuck. Then they find out they’ve been going in circles. They come across a room full of topless chanting women—ooh la la! And when the real “jolts” start coming, they somehow don’t seem to alarm anyone nearly as much as you’d think they would, especially when things take a decidedly weird, paranormal turn.

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” reads the inscription over one passageway they encounter. Hmmm, notes Scarlett “That’s the inscription over the gates of hell.” But in everyone goes—of course.

8H89_FPF_00155RThe plot meanders, like the characters, who spend the majority of the movie lost, wandering, scooting, squirming, slithering, sliding, crawling, running, splashing, or thrashing around in the semi-darkness, rappelling up and down holes, and peeking, panting and peering around corners. It’s almost feels like they’re looking for not only the Philosopher’s Stone, but also a basic storyline, much like the audience.

Things eventually turn violent and bloody, and even more confusing. At the end of it all, it’s a hopelessly tangled, shaky-cam knot of “gotcha!” haunted-house images, loopy, incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo and bargain-basement recycled ideas from other movies. As Above, So Below is reportedly the first movie ever given permission to film in off-limits parts of the Paris catacombs, the largest cemetery in the world. Too bad it comes out such a super-sized subterranean mess.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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