This Labor Day weekend is looking a little slow in my area as only two, yes two movies are premiering this weekend. Earlier I reviewed the latest spy novel, but tonight I saw the latest horror movie entitled As Above So Below. After seeing the trailers quite a few times, I was hesitant as to what this tale would bring, with the only certainty being the potential for a shaky camera. However, the glimpses we’ve seen in the trailers promoted a tail that defied the typical wave of terror. Was I impressed? Please read on to find out.
As you have seen on the commercials by now, this movie takes place in the Catacombs of France, the world’s largest morgue. Yet why anyone would want to clamber into the hidden chambers of the hopeless area is beyond me. The Dowdle brothers help put a logical, albeit stretched, plot of searching for a long lost treasure that even I had forgotten was myth. In an impressive display of screenplay writing, this movie spends the first half hour setting up the adventure in a manner similar to the National Treasure franchise. Amidst the searching of hidden tunnels and marred exhibits we get some brief background information on our team of explorers. The background is certainly not the most developed, but it isn’t half bad and attempts to set up for the latter part of the film. One of the downsides of this opening, a bit long winded at points, and emotionally flat when they reveal some of the darker shadows of the past.
Once in the caves though, the tale takes a twist for the weird as the National Treasure elements continue take a firmer hold, and unfortunately go down a confusing path. The more explaining the characters did, the more I got lost. Whatever was chasing them through the catacombs still remained a mystery, as whatever beast lurked in the hallowed tunnels took the form of various things, many of which were random and didn’t necessarily fit into any part of the story. Within the caves we get more revelations, but the directors forego any drawn out emotion with the sometimes-subtle revelations. Even their logic for escaping is rather ambiguous, tying mythological theology with numerous civilization references that makes for a difficult time at hand. Eventually most of the story gets explained, but the writers hastily wrapped up some of their exuberant stories. Despite the flaws though, the plot is definitely more original than most of the horror movies we’ve seen, deviating from the typical ghost or serial murderer and forging some new ground. They just needed to reign in some things and do a little more explaining on the horror at hand.
Speaking of horror, As Above So Below seems to have traded the details for attempts to try to scare and freak you out. The movie has some decent points where things jump out of you, though most of them are predictable or have been ruined by the trailer. Classic techniques such as the sudden silence, the focus on a dark corner, or the justly timed comment are obvious foreshadows for the scares at hand. Instead the real terror comes from the setting itself, with the Catacombs providing the gaping, soulless maw where anything can lurk. My imagination was able to provide most of the chills, painting horrible creatures and spirits from the brief glimpses and sounds. Such simple techniques really provide the best source of fear, and when combined with the dirty, festering bowels of the morgue really gave me chills. Of course the claustrophobic shots of the adventurers moving through the tight knit tunnels, can have you feeling uncomfortable as well. Thus I warn those with the fear of close spaces to avoid this movie.
Despite the chills it provides though, the odd things they see diminish a lot of the fear factor. There is no cohesiveness to the things in the catacombs, the weird direction they took leading to random obstacles appearing in no discernible order. Sure they still were creepy, but at times I laughed at the ridiculous things they came up with, especially when some of them were punched in the face with such ease. Yeah you heard me, punched in the face. Somehow, what was lurking in the tunnels was unable to touch some of the people, again ambiguously explained by the ending. However, the worst thing that takes away from the movie is the camera work. Found footage films still have a tendency to bring unstable, shaky scenes, where one is exposed to a lot of the camera darting around to mimic the panicked state of the crew. While I do appreciate their attempts to get us into the scene, I prefer a movie that has a steady focus and only goes into colossal shaking at points. Sure the tremors prevented us from getting a clear look at the denizens of the dark, but still there is a point where it becomes too much. My recommendation though is, if you get sick from movies in first person perspective then avoid this movie at all costs.
As Above So Below is a twist on the horror movie genre, which I can greatly appreciate in terms of trying to be original. However, the convoluted plot and shallow character stories make this attempt at uniqueness more complicated than is worth the effort. The shaky camera work also takes away a lot from the movie, and unfortunately for the movie, there isn’t much to offset it. Is this worth a trip to the theater? Not really, and I strongly encourage watching this film in the comforts of your home when the time comes. My scores for this movie are:
Movie Overall: 4.5