As Above, So Below (2014)
Directed and written by John Erick Dowdle
I have to admit I have some claustrophobia concerning tight closed-in spaces. I was at one time plagued by nightmares where I was crawling through a tight, dirt tunnel and the tunnel ahead kept getting smaller and tighter until I could barely move. In this film there’s a scene where the character, Ben, gets stuck in one such tunnel and the more he struggles, the more the tunnel collapses on him. You can see the desperation and panic in his face and in his actions. This scene was so well done it was excruciating for me. I squirmed in my seat and cringed. I screamed at him to remove his belt to free himself.
Let’s back up a little. As Above, So Below is a Found Footage film with a bit of a twist, there are survivors in the end, which was a nice difference. It looked pretty grim at times and I didn’t think anyone would actually survive. The film concerns an urban archaeologist, Scarlet, who is desperate to solve a riddle concerning Aramaic texts that hold some alchemist’s secret of life. Scarlet takes increasingly risky chances following a trail of clues. It seems her father had committed suicide after trying to solve the same riddle and she has vowed to solve the problem in his name.
The trail leads her and a small crew, choreographer, Ben, and love interest, George, to the catacombs of France. She hires an outlaw guide and his crew with the promise of hidden treasure in a secret room as yet undiscovered by modern archaeologists. They follow a jigsaw of ancient maps and texts deeper into the earth, eventually leading them to a pathway marked ‘the gates of hell.’ (Those who enter, abandoned all hope). A collapse behind them forces the crew forward and some strange apparitions and occurrences plague them. There are some mighty chilling scenes here, enjoyable for a horror fan like me. In fact the scares were so well paced and executed that I was smiling in between the scenes. Aside from the paranormal chills, there were also the real life horrors of being in underground caves; the confined spaces, the feeling of being lost, the paranoia of the surroundings, and underwater tunnels (gasp), all portrayed for maximum effectiveness.
While the ending was not as satisfying as I would have liked, I enjoyed the journey immensely. The characters were quite likable and empathetic. I look forward to seeing more from director, John Erick Dowdle, who has previously written and/or directed great horror flicks like, Quarantine, Devil, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes. While some may be turned off by the Found Footage style I think it serves this film well.
A well-paced and interesting horror found footage film that dishes out many original chills and thrills, with both psychological horror and physical horror aspects combined.
I give it 4.1 creepy quagmires out of 5 on the crawling through claustrophobic catacombs capers.
The term ‘as above so below’ is part of Hermatic theory and philosophy. It states that, As in heaven, so on earth – meaning if you think good thoughts, good will follow, if you think bad thoughts, evil will follow. Whatever we think or accept will be the circumstances of our lives.
The hexagram symbol in the movie is used by Satanists and black witches to both, call a demon forward or to keep it at bay. In other instances it is symbolic to create balance in life.
The Catacombs of Paris is an underground grave site which contains the remains of approximately Six Million people, many of which were relocated from existing Parisian cemeteries at the time it was conceived (1782). Underground mines which were no longer used for their original purpose became the housing for the overcrowded Paris cemeteries. The head of the Paris Mine inspection service in 1810 took it upon himself to make the mere housing of the bones into a mausoleum of sorts, stacking skulls and bones in a way that was artistic in some senses. He also used old artifacts and fountains from the original cemeteries to make it a visitable burial place.