Susan Granger's review of 'As Above so Below'
Published 4:39 pm, Friday, September 19, 2014
Referencing Dante's entrance to Hell, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" is the inscription uncovered by a gang of 20-something tomb raiders exploring the spooky catacombs underneath the streets of Paris. They're led by Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), who holds a Ph.D. from University College in London. She is determined to continue her late alchemist father's lifelong quest to discover the legendary Philosopher's Stone, rumored to possess the elixir of life, along with the ability to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. (If the term Philosopher's Stone sounds familiar, yes, it's the same one that J.K. Rowling refers to in her Harry Potter books.)
Teaming up with Aramaic-fluent George (Ben Feldman), and documentary cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge), along with three French catacomb enthusiasts (Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar), who call themselves "cataphiles" and serve as guides, Scarlett ventures deep into the dark-and-narrow, low-ceilinged catacombs, which, according to legend, house the bones of 6 million dead in mass graves. Each adventurer is wearing a helmet with an HD cam attached, just above the wearer's eyes. Along the way, they encounter an assault of demonic imagery, along with a feral weirdo known as "the Mole" (Cosme Castro), who informs them when they're totally disoriented: "The only way out is down."
Written and produced by Drew Dowdle, it's directed by his co-writer/brother John Erick Dowdle ("The Poughkeepsie Tapes," "Quarantine," "Devil"), who relies far too much on cinematographer Leo Hinstin's shaky, hand-held camera work, augmented by Elliot Greenberg's jump-cut editing, to sustain suspense in this all-too-familiar found-footage concept. And the creaking, whispering, chant-filled soundtrack works well to enhance the surreal atmosphere of creepy confinement. Welsh television actress Weeks has obviously patterned herself in the fearless, resourceful Lara Croft mold, wading through waist-deep water and watching everyone, including herself, facing his/her worst fears in this $5 million, low-budget endeavor.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "As Above So Below" is a claustrophobic, frightening 4, destined to dwell among other mediocre horror films on the DVD shelf.