It’s no secret that Paris has a labyrinth of catacombs snaking in its underbelly. The walls are the final resting place to over 6 million people, so it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for a screenwriter to exploit it as a horror movie. Unfortunately, this dire film should be buried under the city never to see the light of day.
Found footage has been done to death. The relative ease of production combined with a guarantees low budget means that many budding filmmaker opt for this format. But now we’re at a point of over saturation, and every week there’s a new release (mainly straight-to-DVD) that has been captured in this format. As Above does twist it slightly, in that the majority is filmed through helmet cams (that are full-HD, no less). While there are no real memorable shots, having alternate points of view does freshen it up ever so slightly.
Perdita Weeks plays the lead of Scarlett, a young professor who holds more qualifications than most universities even offer. She’s impulsive, headstrong and probably the biggest plus point the film has. Only as a character, though – Weeks is, well, weak and doesn’t convince as an actress. But then, neither do any of the other cardboard characters. There’s George (Ben Feldman, Cloverfield), the man who fixes clocks, Benji (Edwin Hodge) the cameraman and finally a French duo of Papillion (François Civil) and Souxie (Marion Lambert) who have extensive underground map knowledge.
The most frustrating thing about As Above is it has so much potential. From its effective and impressive first trailer, it appeared like it would be a memorable 2014 horror release. What’s more, the Paris catacombs are an untapped gold mine of horror scenarios, so for this to be the best idea that someone could come up with is such a waste. The location should, theoretically, generate a gloomy atmosphere easily: it’s tunnels. Under a city. Where the walls are bones. Somehow though, director John Erick Dowdles manages to create… Absolutely nothing. No tension. No atmosphere. And once they enter the catacombs, the plot becomes incoherent and aimless. There’s zero drive or confidence in the story being told, and it shows.
The pacing doesn’t help either. An hour in, and the group have only just entered the tunnels. With a brisk 93 minute runtime, this means there’s only 30 minutes or so to cram in the scares. They never come. It’s also a struggle to see what’s going on when the inevitable deaths arrive, as a result of the nauseous shakiness that comes with handheld footage. From what is seen, the demises are painfully generic. The speed does pick up in the final 10 minutes, but the inclusion of some truly dreadful effects makes you wish it’d slow down again – at least then you wouldn’t be subjected to that.
As Above, So Below disappoints in every aspect. There’s no scares, atmosphere or characters to care about. The story is illogical and the ending can’t come soon enough and even then, it’s a rushed finale. The whole production feels like a student project that has been given a small cash injection from the principle out of pity.
If it’s underground scares you’re after, go watch The Descent and forget this exists.