Film & TV

Review – As Above, So Below

As Above, So Below teaches us that if ever you find yourself in the catacombs of Paris and you think you know a mystical object is hidden down a scary secret passageway, it’s probably best to leave it… unless you’re a treasure hunting expert-in-practically-everything, like Scarlet Marlowe (the brilliant Perdita Weeks).

As Above is a kind of found-footage horror version of Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone – yes, exactly the same myth as in Harry Potter, and with seemingly the same moral – and suffers from clunky exposition and atrocious dialogue, but does boast some good performances, atmospheric design, and it’s actually quite thrilling.


The plot follows documentary maker Benji (Edwin Hodge) as he records the efforts of the brilliant and notorious university lecturer Scarlett, who is chasing the mystery of the legendary ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, which supposedly is the source of eternal life. Scarlett is driven by an infectious tenacity and a personal debt to her father, who was driven to suicide in pursuit of the stone. She enlists the help of her friend George (Ben Feldman) to translate some Aramaic runes she uncovered sneaking in to Iran at the start of the film and then (under the advice of a stranger on a catacombs tour) a graffiti-artist-cum-cave-adventurer-expert-type-guy Papillon.

Scarlett believes that the stone is hidden in the catacombs of Paris and so she, Benji, George, Papillon and his gang all descend beneath the earth to find the stone and, of course, more than they bargained for.


The storyline sounds like a typical yawn-y yarn ‘horror’ film and the style is one of my least favourite off-shoots of a genre I am very fond of (the found-footage horror film, urgh, to give it its full title). But this one’s not too bad. The plot is well-realised through the imagery and lighting, which do create a genuinely creepy atmosphere, and there are some great red herrings as well as some very hit and miss foreshadowing devices (including one that is so good it makes up for all the terrible ones and is so fleetingly referenced that it shows what horror can really do with plot twists).

The film is deeply flawed. The dialogue scenes are incredibly self-conscious and awkward – all the while you’re watching them you’re thinking about the little boy wizard or Harrison Ford’s fedora, and the found-footage thing is still grating because of the root cause of its evil: you’re aware of the camera at all times. I get the ambition behind it, but there comes a point where it actually gets in the way of ‘realism’ and becomes distracting, whereas a film that uses cutting and camerawork in a more ostensibly obvious way can eventually become invisible to the audience and actually make for something more dramatic.


This is where I come to my main point: I think As Above, So Below would work better if it was a video game. It basically becomes such in the final ten minutes anyway, and it has all the elements of Slender or Silent Hill or an H.P. Lovecraft-style game both aesthetically and dramatically. It would also remedy the distractingly bad plotting and the campy and sometimes unintentional ‘horror’ aspects of the film that are more akin to an Alton Towers ride than a motion picture. Universal Studios may have missed a trick thus far, but if it sells well enough and they decide to make one, I want my cut of the profits!

Yes, As Above, So Below may not be anything special and it may owe a lot to similarly satanic films like Borderlands, but it is jolly good fun and surprisingly refreshing and engrossing, and as horror fans know, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of trashy indulgence.

Jake Leonard


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