“As Above/So Below” mashes up horror, mystery and adventure movies, but it’s more unpleasant than scary. | ★½ out of 4 stars
They’re going to have to start issuing licenses to all these filmmakers who insist on shooting their movies in the shaky-cam “found footage” format. Maybe have the “Blair Witch” guys and Oren “Paranormal Activity” Peli sign those licenses.
Because something needs to be done to limit this explosion of cell-cam/security cam/nanny cam and GoPro footage that’s dominating the Horror Hit Parade.
Those “Quarantine” and “Poughkeepsie Tapes” Minnesotans, the Dowdle brothers, overuse and abuse handheld cameras for “As Above/So Below,” a thriller about what might come after you in the catacombs beneath Paris.
It’s a modest marriage of “Indiana Jones” and “Da Vinci Code” archaeological puzzle-solving with the denizens of “The Descent,” supernaturally attached, almost as an afterthought. And for all the paranoia that climbing through dark caves beneath Paris promises, the Dowdles insist on a headache-inducing orgy of bouncing, tumbling cameras to seal the deal.
In a “Last Crusade” prologue, urban archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) videos herself sneaking into Iran in an attempt to poke around some caves before the superstitious government blows up some priceless piece of human history.
Her Iranian contact warns her not to follow her late archaeologist dad’s footsteps.
“His quest was a path to madness.”
But she is nothing if not single-minded. She finds evidence of this “Philosopher’s Stone” talisman he was looking for, and surviving the demolition of the caves (shaky/dusty cam), sets out to Paris to finish his search for the alchemist’s ultimate prize — a magic rock.
She picks up a videographer who wants to make a documentary about her, Benji (Edwin Hodge), her old translator pal George (Ben Feldman) and a trio of French spelunking punks, led by a guy who calls himself Papillon, played by Francois Civil.
Scarlett puts on her best French weave see-through off-the-shoulder sweater, and they’re off, with Papillon leading them to the unknown corner of the ancient French burial chambers, where 6 million late French folk are entombed.
“As Above” takes forever to go below, and once there, another long while passes before supernatural stuff starts troubling their trek. Papillon warns the bloody tourists, at every turn, to avoid passing through the wrong catacombs.
“Which ones have filled with water? Which have collapsed? Which are EVIL?”
Scarlett, an intrepid Brit, is heedless; George, afraid of caves; and Benji, not thrilled to be among all those bones. The three are dragged along by Scarlett’s force of will. And then it’s “This is WRONG” and “This is a BAD idea” as cadaverous faces are glimpsed and other inexplicable things happen, which they don’t stop to explicate.
The performances are perfunctory, the rising tide of fear they should all be feeling is limited to Benji’s single claustrophobic panic attack. That’s the only compelling human moment the players manage in all this.
It’s more unpleasant than scary, and ever so slow in getting up to speed.
The Dowdles’ “Quarantine” was one of the better films of the “Found Footage” era. But they made that six years ago, long before this format had been beaten and shaken to death.
With “So Below,” their license to jiggle, toss and turn the camera should be suspended.
★½ out of 4 stars