Bringing you honest reviews of recent releases
An enthusiastic young woman with a passion for chasing historical myths leads a team of explorers underneath the streets of Paris, to hopefully discover an ancient artefact that could change the world. But as they venture further below the famous catacombs, they begin to realise their lives have been turned upside-down.
Because it’s Hell down there..
The Goonies meets The Descent as underground horror gets a new twist.
Perdita Weeks – Scarlet
Ben Feldman – George
Edwin Hodge – Benji
François Civil – Papillon
Marion Lambert – Souxie
Ali Marhyar – Zed
I actually didn’t mind this movie. It was slightly tacky, but incredibly watchable – like a mix of Drag Me To Hell and The DaVinci Code, As Above, So Below centres around a mystical legend the main protagonist is chasing with clues, whilst knowing she may have to face an inevitable fate. And although delivering the main action by way of live video camera, this movie manages to entertain. All films that use the ‘shaky cam’ effect run the risk of being bloody awful don’t they; that classic tacky atmosphere we’ve all seen before and, eventually, end up folding our arms waiting for the bloody thing to finish.
As Above, So Below slipped nicely into this category but was saved from flopping completely by its storyline. If I’m honest, I had my eyes on the screen the entire time, wondering what would happen next – and even vocalising a few “whoa” and “wow”‘s. I actually shocked myself during one scene – I bellowed from my stomach a kind of “URRH!!” which was luckily covered up by the noise on screen. I screamed so loud I nearly shit myself.
And let’s face it, if a movie can do that – it gets points.
I’ll say this: the cast were fantastic. So the plot may have been cheesy, but the handful of actors who took on this movie were very genuine, believable. At no point did I consider any of the actors to be awful – it was literally like watching real found footage of an accident or something.
Perdita who plays Scarlet won me over immediately. Although her character is an insufferable and over-educated nosey bint, she captured my attention immediately. She speaks with such passion that its hard to tune her out – and as the movie progresses, the girl gets up to some proper detective-style antics; one scene sees her lift a precious tablet off a museum wall and turning it over, uncovers a hidden message – by mixing together two cleaning products she grabs from the janitor’s trolley nearby, splashing the concoction on the stone and lighting a match. Brilliant!
I could liken this movie to features such as The Goonies (moving stones to open doors), Indiana Jones (dashing through trap-strewn passages) and The DaVinci Code (maps, secret codes and historic events) instantly, due to the nature of the plot. And I think this is what makes As Above, So Below less tacky than other ‘shaky cam’ movies – the fact it contains some intriguing and investigative action, whereas many others are simply people running around screaming from something they can’t see. So although Scarlet is so enthusiastic about her studies that she comes across annoying, she is the main character who keeps this movie alive. Perdita is backed by a group of natural actors I just cannot fault – love or hate this film, you can’t deny the talent involved.
It’s the question as old as time itself – is there a Hell? And what is it like? Well, these kids may be about to find out..
There are some seriously sinister going’s-on in this movie, including traps and terrifying cloaked men, which add nicely to the atmosphere. The only problem is most of what the group experience underground are unexplained – but then this had me leaving the cinema shaking my head in total disarray, wondering firstly: how? who? and why?
At one point, the explorers find yet another darkened passage to journey down; as they enter it, the atmosphere changes – the sound on screen suddenly becomes muffled, like being underwater and someone is speaking. This continues for a minute or so as Scarlet jumps up and down on the stone ground to figure out what it happening (again, demonstrating pure intelligence and human interest in her surroundings, instead of running away screaming). This scene was just weird! The muffled gurgling made me feel a little uneasy – but when it passed, I was in for more suspense..
The deep moaning of (what sounded like) a cruise liner blares through the tunnels, creating an unbearably deafening experience for them. The mournful wailing and moaning of tormented soulls seems to be coming from somewhere behind the walls too.
This scene was oozing with dread. I actually had my hand over my mouth at one point, eyes firmly fixed on the screen as I wondered with intrigue what would be around the corner..
BANG – right there. That’s the sort of feeling you want from a film, what a film needs – suspense. Getting the audience reacting to what they’re seeing. I think it all comes down to the religious / historical elements with this – the taboo question of the underworld, Hell, etc. Because if this movie was simply a cliché man in a mask wielding a knife, chasing a group of kids.. seen it all before. The fact it was actually exploration into a mythical artefact (The Philosopher’s Stone), and the discovery of an inexplicable world made this movie one of a kind. Different to the rest.
Hell is a subject questioned by many people, religions, science – and this movie pushes that question even further by opening the underground-underworld equivalent of Pandora’s Box.
Fans of the Harry Potter franchise may recognise or even relish the scene regarding The Philosopher’s Stone.
Scarlet sits talking to the camera near the beginning of the movie, about the stone and how she intends to embark on mission to discover it. She mentions the name Nicolas Flamel – at which my ears pricked up – as I remembered back to the first Potter film and Hermione Granger dropping his name in her pre-womanhood squeaky voice, whilst clutching a book to her chest. It was strange, hearing about the whole legend again – only this time, the characters go one step further in looking for the precious stone. And the consequences are far from the Warner Brothers standard..
As Above, So Below contributes nicely to the story of Nicolas Flamel and the famous stone, but doesn’t overcook it. We get to hear how it turns base metals into gold, provides the elixir of life and possible immortality, etc. before being treated to an eyeful of incredible scenarios. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but I will say that a few scenes are terrifyingly fascinating due to the effect The Philosopher’s Stone has had on people. Keep your eyes open people, you DON’T want to miss any of this.
WARNING: if you suffer from severe claustrophobia – avoid this movie.
If you suffer lightly from claustrophobia – man up. You do realise we all spend the first nine months of our lives squished in a ball inside our mother’s wombs..?
There are one or two scenes that may have claustrophobes reeling. One such delight is when cameraman Benji attempts to crawl through an extremely narrow opening in a wall of rock, but gets stuck. For claustrophobes, this part may have them breaking into a sweat. For me – it was just tedious. The scene goes on for way too long, much longer than I expected. As he wriggles and scratches his way around, Benji seems to make a meal out of the situation instead of trying to solve it. Scarlet’s mini-cam on her helmet seems to have slipped down to her ankle as the scenario is filmed continuously. Wide open mouth and a ‘hell’ of a lot of shouting is all you get, until it comes to an end.
I was bored senseless during this – I thought the cinema had accidentally put the scene on slow-mo play.
..but apart from this, be warned – much of this movie is a tight squeeze.
The whole ‘upside down’ element was mind-boggling. During the movie our explorers enter a stone chamber which they soon exit – only to re-enter it, but the other way round. Almost like a mirror, the room is reversed. This added a frantic yet brain-twisting atmosphere to it that I really enjoyed. It was all down to the complicated cryptic surroundings and scary happenings that were soaked in dread. Brilliant.
This isn’t just a low-budget live-cam film – it’s a sinister mixture of mystery and puzzle solving, archaeology, religion and longing. The terror is an added element that rounds it off perfectly.
Before going to see As Above, So Below I assumed the movie was set in the catacombs below Paris. But it’s actually not, being based much further down below the surface and in a totally different maze of chambers to those of the infamous catacombs. A nice surprise there.
Like many other movies, this one had its flaws as well as twinkles.
The group discover a man who has been trapped below the earth for two years; who although a little dazed, appears to be alive. How? Trapped in the dark for two years, where did he get water / food from? He also announces to the group that he “knows the way out”.
..why did he not use it two years ago?
The concept of Hell was baffling – it was not actually clear whether or not they were in Hell. And if they weren’t, where were they? There was no explanation as to the cloaked figures and other beings (which was odd considering Scarlet knew the complete histories of everything else they stumbled upon) beneath the ground. Just a line delivered by Scarlet confirming they were actually in Hell would have sealed the deal nicely and made me shit my pants. But this was left unexplained.
..perhaps unexplained was actually a good thing in the end?
– the group entering a pitch-black void, and the anticipation of what they would find
– the ‘sleeping’ corpses lying on plinths.. terrifying, exciting, sad, incredible
– the sounds of ‘Hell’
– the part where two characters find a hole in the ground they’re standing on, crouch down, yank the cover across and drop down..
..but land the other way round, right way up – on a street in Paris.
They jumped down a manhole but UP into a street!? Mind-bending.
As Above, So Below is not overly bad. It might not be incredible but it manages to entertain and got a few of the audience in the cinema jumping out of their seats, and let’s face it – this is an effective reaction.
If you’re going to watch it with the mindset of it being a rip-off of other shaky-cam films – don’t. Just absorb it for what it is, because unlinke many of those other features it’s not just cliché characters running away screaming, it’s a group of strong personalities on a mission to discover an ancient artefact who happen to stumble upon horrifying truths.
This movie blends the practise of historic research with horror, and as tacky as it may be in certain parts, is one of the most watchable horrors I’ve seen in a long time. It could have been a lot worse.
Give it a go.