As Above, So Below (2014)
In a nutshell:
Indiana Jones meets The Descent. Everything here is borrowed from better entries in the horror genre.
A young archaeologist and a ragtag group of French kids head beneath the streets of Paris in search of the “philosopher’s stone”. Whilst in the catacombs under the city they come to believe they may not actually be alone. As they go deeper, signals suggest they could be approaching the gates of hell itself.
John Erick Dowdle, director of 2010’s DEVIL, returns to ‘Satan-cinema’ with this effort. The physical representation of Hell is really what the movie is about and that’s a brave topic. Our band of plucky explorers literally crawl straight into Hell itself ( in one of the most effective scenes of the whole film). The basic and unoriginal idea is that past sins come back to haunt us – and that’s what happens in Hell, a place specific to each individual.
There is also something inevitable about this group of people being pulled together to go into the catacombs. But beyond this, Dowdle leaves most to audience interpretation.
The film’s introductory scenes garner interest as our female lead (think an idealistic Lara Croft) is nearly crushed by a controlled explosion in a cavern below Iran, whilst we glimpse the image of a hanging man. The screenplay then sets up our Paris trip with much talk of alchemy, centuries-old puzzles and the illusive “elixir of life”; you could just as well be watching Indiana Jones.
Poorly scripted throughout, once we enter the catacombs, the movie regrettably falls back on socking a collage of demonic images to the audience in a kind of unstructured merry-go-round. What the film never really attains is the dread-soaked atmosphere you think could be round the corner, a feeling for example which elevates films like Fulci’s THE BEYOND (1981) above others addressing the underworld.
One of the film’s successes is that it manages to make you forget you’re watching a found-footage movie. There are some creepy sequences and disquieting moments, which mostly owe to on-location shooting in the Parisian catacombs. We do get believable performances from some of the cast, I particularly liked Francois Civil as the adventurous but guilt-ridden Papillon.
The cardinal problem here is that Hell was done better in EVENT HORIZON (1997) and “claustrophic-cave-terror” achieved its pinnacle in THE DESCENT (2005). So whilst there are intriguing ideas, there isn’t much we haven’t seen before.
Hotdog rating: 5/10