It’s that time of year again; get ready for the barrage of good and bad horror movies to usher in the Halloween season. The first out the gate is the paranormal found-footage thriller As Above, So Below. Take the plot and turning points from National Treasure, The Decent, and the 90s cult classic Blair Witch Project, throw them in a blender and what do you get? This movie. Borrowing heavily from the aforementioned movies, this film is one part treasure hunt and one part paranormal activity. With very little visceral horror and just a handful of jump-scares, this film creates the atmosphere of horror by successfully placing the audience into the same tight spaces, within the confines of the legendary Paris catacombs, as are the small band of explorers.
As Above, So Below is a found-footage film about a group of explorers, lead by the academic genius and treasure hunter Scarlett, who venture beneath the “City of Lights” into the dark world of the catacombs to seek the legendary Philosopher’s Stone (not to be confused with the one from Harry Potter). Following clues found in places as far away from Paris as Iran and on obscure medieval tombstones, the group uncovers a dark secret, only the labyrinth of twists and turns of the massive burial ground can hide.
Setting the claustrophobic feel of the movie at the very beginning, the audience is introduced to the treasure-hunter-professor Indiana Jones/Benjamin Gates-ish protagonist Scarlett (played by Perdita Weeks) by way of the iconic found-footage tool, the shaky cam. That cinematic move will prove to be key in setting the mood of the film for when we finally enter the catacombs. The chief cinematic element, this film relies upon, is creating an atmosphere of horror for the audience. In a manner of speaking, many times, it’s the unknown and close quarters that sets the fear barometer in the mind. Unlike some found-footage films, which are primarily taken from one or two cameras, this film utilizes handheld cameras and headlamp mounted cameras to get both first-person and third-person perspectives on the journey into the bowls of the earth. These shots allow the audience to feel trapped within the tight spaces and along with the characters on the screen, thus transferring the anxiety of the unknown and suffocating tight spaces into the mind.
Although the film sets the protagonist up to be an academic genius, in order to allow for her to draw the conclusions and interpret symbols on the fly in the catacombs, the quick speed and lack of cognitive strain she exhibits in the catacombs is unbelievable. The film would have played out better, had there been more demonstrable confusion and difficulty in solving the riddles and puzzles. Many scenes play out the same way they were in National Treasure, especially when Scarlett seeks the help of a colleague who feels she is a lunatic for seeking the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Likewise, many situations and even some of the dialog is reminiscent of The Decent. Much like in The Blair Witch Project, the paranormal apparitions and figures are seldom seen and never fully explained–this aids in the unknown horror of the film. Between the physical spacial horror and handful of jump-scares, this film will have you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what is to come.
This is the type of horror film that will have you and your friends talking about it the next day. Many of the connections between the history of the catacombs and respective pasts of the characters and the present horror they face, will not be realized until after the film comes to a close. But, this is what gives this particular horror film a win for the genre. For those who hope for visceral horror in a film, this may not be for you; however, if you enjoy paranormal films grounded in a little history and mystery, then you will most likely enjoy this 90-minute journey into the dark underworld of Paris where it’s sometimes the opposite of what is logical that will save you.