As Above, So Below
by Hope Madden
A friend of mine went to Paris for her honeymoon, convincing her husband to tour the catacombs beneath the city while there. It’s a creepy, claustrophobic destination for most anyone. He’s uninterested in the macabre, and he’s 6’4”. It was a tight fit.
I thought of him frequently during As Above, So Below because, if there’s one thing the film does effectively, it is tap your claustrophobic dread.
Scarlett, an Indiana Jones type, believes a stone that A) turns any metal into gold, and B) grants eternal life, is hidden beneath Paris. She lures a documentarian, an old boyfriend, and a team of Parisian catacomb explorers to help her finish the quest that killed her father. All told, it’s a weirdly young, attractive, hyper-intelligent group of explorers.
Obviously, co-writer/director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) owes the Jones franchise a pretty big debt. He’s equally indebted to Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror classic The Descent, and he robs here and there from his own Quarantine, the Julia Roberts/Keiffer Sutherland debacle Flatliners, and the Nicolas Cage ridiculousness National Treasure. A weird mix, that, but there are moments when it works.
The one thing Dowdle does well is develop a rising terror of confinement – a knack he proved with Quarantine. He loses his footing when it comes to intermittent scares, and the film just doesn’t build to enough of a climax.
The set up takes too long and there’s not enough terror to distract you from the fairly ludicrous quest underway. The spooky images are few and far between, with Dowdle relying too heavily on the whiz and whir of handheld cameras and distorted sounds to carry the load his imagination couldn’t.
It doesn’t make the film entirely unsatisfying. The claustrophobic among us, in particular, will be put through the ringer. But Dowdle and crew can’t quite piece together enough quality moments to deliver a memorable chiller.