Dir: John Erick Dowdle. US. 2014. 93mins
Found footage horror thriller As Above, So Below starts out with an intriguing location - the Catacombs of Paris - and a potentially decent premise but ends up feeling like an almost random collection of genre riffs. Though hardcore fright fans in need of a late summer fix might turn out for the low budget Legendary Pictures offering, mainstream ticket buyers may be more inclined to let this particular unlikely tale rest in peace.
For considerable stretches the film contents itself with stringing together the kinds of sights and sounds that are standard issue in the horror genre.
As the first release under Legendary’s new deal with Universal, the film opens this weekend in the US, at the start of the often slow (in box office terms) Labor Day holiday span. The international rollout - which began last week in France and continues this weekend in the UK - could be helped by the story’s setting and a somewhat international cast.
The UK’s Perdita Weeks (from TV series The Tudors) plays Scarlet, a daredevil archeologist who becomes convinced that the legendary Philosopher’s Stone is hidden in the Catacombs, the vast eighteenth century crypt which in real life occupies a network of caverns and tunnels under the French capital. Scarlet, reluctant sidekick George (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman), documentary filmmaker Benji (Edwin Hodge, from The Purge) and gonzo tunnel explorer Papillon (France’s François Civil, recently seen on the festival circuit in Frank) go in search of the artifact but soon find themselves caught in what appears to be a physical and psychological maze.
Film-making brothers John Erick Dowdle (director and co-writer) and Drew Dowdle (co-writer and producer), who previously worked on horror outings Devil and Quarantine, bring plenty of nervy energy to the film but not so much storytelling craft.
The found footage conceit (the action is supposed to be seen through cameras that Benji mounts on the adventurers’ headlamps) mainly serves just to give the film a shaky, handheld look and the archeological plot thread is little more than an excuse to keep the characters going deeper into the crypt. The tone moves quickly from breathless to hysterical, with a few moments teetering on snigger-inducing silliness.
There’s a half-hearted attempt to explain the strange scenes and spooky visions - something about the characters resolving past life failings - and there are a few unsettling and atmospheric scenes. But for considerable stretches the film contents itself with stringing together the kinds of sights and sounds that are standard issue in the horror genre.
Production companies: Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures
International distribution: Universal Pictures
Producers: Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Drew Dowdle, Patrick Aiello
Executive producer: Alex Hedlund
Screenplay: John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle
Cinematography: Léo Hinstin
Editor: Elliot Greenberg
Production designer: Louise Marzaroli
Music: Keefus Ciancia
Main cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar