UK Release Date: 29th August 2014
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Writer: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle
Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil
Synopsis: An intrepid archaeologist, a cameraman and a team of rebellious French cavers journey into the catacombs of Paris, attempting to prove the existence of the mythical Philosopher’s Stone.
This year has had more than its fair share of bad found footage horror films, with Devil’s Due and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones stinking their way through cinemas. However, in the shape of claustrophobic chiller As Above, So Below, set underneath the city of Paris, there’s something a lot more interesting to keep the genre alive.
Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is an idealistic scholar, stopping at nothing in her search for the Philosopher’s Stone. Tracing the object to Paris, she enlists the help of her former lover George (Ben Feldman) and cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge) to get into the catacombs. When she discovers that there is an entire hidden network, the small crew are joined by cave enthusiast Papillon (François Civil) and his friends as they delve into darkness.
As Above, So Below is a film that suffers from an enormous elephant in the room. That elephant is Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror The Descent, which is one of the scariest movies of the last few decades, and shares a claustrophobic underground setting with As Above, So Below. Fortunately, John Erick Dowdle’s claustro-horror is an apt little sister for Marshall’s instant classic.
| "There are 200 miles of tunnels right underneath our feet."
Perdita Weeks shines as the spunky, daring adventurer who leads the dangerous underground expedition. Her idealistic pursuit of her goals is unwavering, even when she starts to spring the sort of booby traps that could even make Indiana Jones run a mile. Far from the average horror film female, she’s the one in charge when all hell breaks loose.
The supporting cast fare less well, despite very committed performances. Edwin Hodge does a passable job as the man behind the found footage camera. He does a great job of making his physically imposing character vulnerable in some of As Above, So Below’s moments of real danger.
Director John Erick Dowdle proves adept at conjuring a really unsettling tone, paying that off with some impressive jump scares. It never lives up to the thrills of the The Descent, but As Above, So Below does exactly what it needs to do, especially during a middle section that really escalates the tension.
| "When I was a kid, we had a piano that looked exactly like this…"
Unfortunately, the film really struggles as it falters towards a climax. As Above, So Below ties itself up in knots as it attempts to explain the hour and a half of weirdness that came before. By trying to satisfy everyone, it fudges just about everything and ends with a real whimper rather than a bang.
Pop or Poop?
Genuinely scary, with some really effective jump moments, As Above, So Below is a satisfying entry in the fledgling claustro-horror genre.
Perdita Weeks gives a charismatic central performance, aided by a committed supporting cast, and some stellar work from director Dowdle.
It is doomed to live in the shadow of The Descent, but despite its messy conclusion, it’s a very solid film.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.