★★★ out of ★★★★★
Found footage films can be a tricky business. You really have to sell the conceit that someone, or in this case multiple people, are going to be carrying around camera and recording every single move they make…and they might even inadvertently catch a freaky apparition in the background. A tall task made even more grand by the sheer number of found footage films that have made their way to the bottom of the bargin bin at Best Buy.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
As Above, So Below is a 2014 spook show that’s part Da Vinci Code, part National Treasure, part Blair Witch, and all claustrophobia. The film follows the hyper-earnest and over-educated Scarlett (Perdita Weeks). She’s apparently an archeologist, a religious historian, a rune interpreter, a language expert, and someone who’s incapable of knowing when enough is indeed enough. She’s also got a familial mystery to solve and it’s so all-consuming that it drove her father mad. On an Indiana Jones-esque jaunt to Iran she uncovers an ancient sealed Sumerian/Zoroastrian tomb complete with a cryptic road map to the GATES OF HELL!
Being as brainy as she is Scarlett quickly deduces that the number 741, according the many numerologists, was the actual depth of Hell, so clearly that’d mean that half of that, or around 370 feet, would be the entrance to Hell. Makes sense to me. In order to put her theory to place she and her one man film crew, Benji (Edwin Hodge — Purge Anarchy and Purge Election Year), head to Paris to consult her estranged friend and Aramaic expert George (Ben Feldman — Cloverfield, Friday the 13th, and Superstore). The brainy trio puts all the geospatial pieces together and determines that Paris has an extensive network of tunnels and catacombs that are probably several hundred feet deep, ergo the gates of Hell are below Paris!
Scarlett and George quickly enlist a team of Parisian cave enthusiasts and head down in to the murky depths below Paris. The tunnels become more and more confined, the darkness begins to wear on them, and lo and behold, the group finds themselves in a constantly repeating maze. They dig, they climb, they fall, and the solve each room’s mysterious offerings — almost too conveniently. All along, the film continuous presents the dualistic nature of man. Good vs. evil. Heaven vs. Hell. Past vs. Present. Real vs. imagined. Above vs. Below. In other words, philosophy 101 as told through found footage.
The group does eventually manage to reach the gates of Hell, and beyond, but along the way the audience is forced to suspend a huge amount of disbelief. There are many unexplained ghouls, there’s a Satanic ceremony that the group casually saunters by, one of the Parisian climbers inexplicably takes over camera duties, Scarlett is forced to double-back and does so in warp speed, and so forth. That said, As Above, So Below keeps the pace moving so quickly that there’s really no time to spend perseverating over these minor flaws.
As Above, So Below is a pop corn feast for the horror masses. For once, that’s a good thing. Found Footage does seem to be a bottomless pit of entertainment. Some provocative and enthralling, and some poorly conceived and unbelievable. While As Above, So Below threads this needle it does so in a way that keeps you wondering whether the group will be able to escape this dualistic adventure. Not an easy feat for a sub-genre that’s rife with credibility issues.
As Above, So Below is Rated R and currently streaming on Netflix.