As Above, So Below (Blu-ray / DVD)


As Above So BelowDirected by John Erick Dowdle

Starring Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge

Distributed by Universal

I missed the theatrical run of As Above, So Below, which is pretty surprising given that found footage films are basically my jam. As luck would have it, it turns out I’m one of those movie critics or something, so I had the chance to witness Mr. Dowdle’s most recent attempt to recapture the magic that was The Poughkeepsie Tapes. Spoiler Alert: He didn’t.

As Above, So Below is my third strike against the Dowdle brothers. A few years ago I managed to acquire what was totally not a bootleg copy of the The Poughkeepsie Tapes from what was totally a reputable sidewalk DVD vendor. I was absolutely floored by how shocking and disturbing the film was. Hungry for more, I eagerly looked up what else the directors had done. Still relatively new to mainstream film releases, their only other movie at the time was Quarantine. I had seen [REC] when it first came out, and as the only one of my friends that had seen it during our theater trip to Quarantine, everyone was curious how it stacked up to the original. At the time I think my reply was, “It was basically that, but a bit better.” While not awful, Quarantine was not only less subtle than [REC] but kind of pointless.

Then Devil came out. Even with bits of Shyamalan all over its face, I figured that it couldn’t be that bad since the Dowdle brothers had yet to really let me down. If you haven’t seen Devil, there is a part in the movie where a guy drops a piece of toast and it lands jam side down, thereby proving that the literal Devil is in the building. If you were to spend all day counting the dicks that the movie sucked, it would still be more entertaining than watching it.

Still, I have a rule of always basing my decisions off of meaningless kitschy numerical correlation, so it would have to be three strikes before the Dowdles were out in my book. As I said before, As Above, So Below was that third strike. I don’t really get how they fucked it up so bad since it seems like the perfect concept. The Paris Catacombs are already some scary shit, even without demons or ghosts giving you the willies. All you have to do is throw in some creepy moans and a handful of spooks, and you’re on your way to an enjoyable film. The greatest tragedy of AASB is how squandered this opportunity for a good idea was.

Not ONCE does a spooky skeleton pop out. Guys, this is the Catacombs. It is literally made of skeletons. Why are there no skeletons popping out and chasing people? Instead, they have these… ash… mummy… things? They bite you and then you punch them with your camera and they go “errrrgh” and stop chasing you. Way to go, guys; you managed to create the only creature less intimidating than silly skeletons running around. I could understand wanting to go scarier than animated bones, but this is a confusing step in the other direction.

The premise of the film is that Pretty Lady wants to find the grave of Nicholas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone, thereby proving her dad wasn’t coo-coo-bananas. She goes to Iran to find a tablet with some clues and National Treasures her way to Paris because Paris and Iran are like basically the same place. After lighting a tombstone on fire and meeting up with Love Interest, they set out to find a group of hardcore Catacombs explorers to get them into the forbidden and super secret areas of the underground. Rounding out the cast are Scared Black Cameraman, Secondary But Slightly Grungier Pretty Girl, Bad Comic Relief, and “Papillon.” Together they set out on a quest for glory and treasure, and a brisk 35 minutes into the film, they finally make their way to the main plot.

The first hint that things are messed up comes in the form of a topless choir of witches. My eyes were assaulted by what must have been at least 27 individual saggy breasts, and like snowflakes, they were all dangly and gross in their own special way. It stands out as the most terrifying part of the film. Past them (or maybe before, this movie is dumb), they reach a wall of bones they have to crawl over. Scared Black Cameraman gets scared and stuck for like 3 whole minutes. For the entire time all we see is a Blair Witch style closeup of his face as he starts crying and shuffling back and forth, wailing witch choir growing louder in the background. It is an excruciatingly uninteresting scene.

Uh-oh, guys, it turns out that passage actually led to the gates to Hell! Guess we’re gonna see some fucked up shit, right!? Oh, we’re actually just gonna watch them walk around for another hour before anything interesting happens? I… I guess that’s cool too. To be fair, there is an interesting part at the end where the floor grows a mouth, but it is not worth the wait. As they go through the Catacombs, they intermittently come across some manifestations from their past, such as a piano or drowning child.

The best moment is when they come across a phone that is ringing. In the Catacombs. A phone. They actually try to say, “The phone companies used to run lines down here.” For fucking who, the mole people? It rings, and Pretty Lady answers it, as any of us would if we heard a phone ringing hundreds of feet underground, presumably right before shouting, “This place is haunted as shit” and running away. What’s great is that no one asks her who was calling. This is a group of 6 people exploring what they assume are just regular ol’ Catacombs, and not one asks who was on the other end of the demon phone.

They meet up with Certainly Not Going To Try To Kill You Later, who has been missing for years, and he tells them, “The only way out is down.” They come across some spooky messages like “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here,” and after some light puzzle solving they eventually make their way to the MacGuffin. It all turns out to be a trap and the room collapses, making Certainly Not Going To Try To Kill You Later vanish and giving Other Pretty Girl a nasty gash on the arm. Luckily, Pretty Girl is now a wizard thanks to the MacGuffin and heals her with the power of alchemy.

They continue down, and shit gets incrementally whackier. They eventually meet up again with Certainly Not Trying Going To Try To Kill You Later, and he shows them that he was actually Definitely Going To Try To Kill You Later all along! He kills Other Pretty Girl, and they try to bring her back with the stone, but alas it only works on the living. Sorry, Other Pretty Girl, I guess if you wanted to make it through, you shouldn’t have worn skanky eyeliner.

I risk this turning into a big plot summary so I’ll get to the point. The problem with the film is that everything is either goofy or nonsense. There isn’t a death in the movie that made me terrified or shocked. They were all just kind of silly. The standout silliest death has to be Papillon’s, as he is sucked into a floor by a flaming car representing a guilt from his past. It wasn’t a terrible idea for a kill, but as he gets sucked in in a flash, his legs are left sticking out of the ground like two floppy skis. They kick around in this half-assed confused fashion for a few seconds before stopping. Serious horror movies are no place for goofy leg flops.

As for the nonsense bits, all the puzzle solving comes straight out of their asses. I can buy the whole keystone door thing, fine. I can kind of get her figuring out for all of them to turn off their lights to see the exit. Figuring out that she had to go all the way back through the entire Catacomb to put the MacGuffin back based on the phrase “vitriol” is a lot to swallow. So now this movie involves backtracking, and I must hand it to the director for finding a way to take the least enjoyable part of video games and adapting it to the big screen.

When she gets there, she puts the MacGuffin back and realizes that the actual real MacGuffin must be somewhere else in the room. She looks down and dusts off a mirror, seeing her reflection. She realized the MacGuffin was within her all along. Ha. Ha ha. Haaaaaaha haaaaaahahahaha! That’s the dumbest plot twist ever! It’s like something I’d make up with friends when in a competition to come up with the worst plot twists. So let me get this straight; the power to live forever and heal all wounds was within her the whole time? Is this like a Hell-specific power, or will she be able to take it with her when she goes? Could any of them have done this at any time, or like fairies do you have to believe in them for the powers to exist? When the other people were killed, is it because they just didn’t really want to be alive enough? I have so many questions, and they all lead back to what the fuck was the writer thinking?

When she reaches her friends again, now consisting of only Love Interest and Bad Comic Relief, she tells them that they must all rectify themselves with their past before jumping into the warp pipe to the surface. I’ll be honest; I totally forgot that Bad Comic Relief was even still in the movie until a few scenes earlier when he dragged Love Interest to safety. He hasn’t said anything insightful or contributed to the plot in a way more meaningful than a pair of legs and two hands, and he hasn’t been characterized since a failed rap attempt before they even got to the Catacombs. Turns out that Love Interest is sad that his brother died and he couldn’t save him. They ask Bad Comic Relief what his burden is, and he goes “I have a kid. I never see him. I know he is mine, but I never claimed him.” Wait, the fuck? You have a what? Whoa whoa whoa, hold the phone; you just abandoned a kid and you go, “Oops” and get to escape Hell? The other two characters are guilty over something verifiably not their faults and are coming to terms with that. You don’t just get to say, “I abandoned my child” and leap out of Hell scot-free. You’d have to say like at least three dozen Hail Marys for that one.

So they jump and get out of Hell. They all hug, and the film cuts back to her interview before this whole ordeal began where she said she just wants the truth. I cannot figure out the significance of this scene, but at this point I’m sure even the editor had stopped caring. The movie is finally over, and I get to go do other things now. Hurray.

At all times during the film, As Above So Below is either boring you, confusing you, or making you roll your eyes. It isn’t terribly shot for a found footage film, and there are some good ideas here, but good God did they squander what should have been a horror slam dunk. They could easily have cut out the whole 35-minute lead up and filled that time with more spooky skeletons. We do not care about your poor attempt at characterization. We do not really care how you got to this place. We certainly don’t care about your prior relationships. What we do care about is watching a group of between 4 to 8 people being hunted by monsters in the Catacombs.

Here, I’ll help out. When the camera turns on, have the main character look to someone else and ask, “You think we will find it this time?” The other character replies, “I don’t know, man; every other lead we’ve gotten turns out to be a dead end. Still, nice ambiance.” A third guy chimes in, “I have a good feeling about this one, guys. I mean, this map seemed really authentic. You don’t hide things in ancient tombs without it being important.” There, I just gave you an explanation for why the characters are there in three sentences. Sure, it’s shitty, but it’s way better than being both shitty and 35 minutes long. Or shitty and 93 minutes long.

Since we’re talking about saving time, if you’re looking for special features, you’ve thankfully been spared. All to be found here is a three-minute featurette.

If you want a good movie about people running around in tunnels, watch The Tunnel. As Above, So Below? More like As Above, So It Blows, am I right, guys!?!? High fives all around.

Special Features:

  • Inside As Above, So Below featurette

  • Film
  • Special Features
User Rating 4 (6 votes)


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