It wasn’t the worst idea ever: To host a horror movie in the world’s largest mass grave and popular tourist attraction. As Above,So Below takes place in the actual Paris Catacombs, and this setting lends the illusion of a connection to the real world. The Dowdle brothers (Quarantine, Devil) are on the case. John Erick directs and Drew produces, and they have a knack for filming in tight quarters. Their initial execution and pacing is on point, but this movie is disarmed by an uneven second half. Yes, the found-footage element distracts on several levels too. Helmet cams could have potentially added to atmospheric sense of dread of squeezing through a claustrophobic setting. Sadly, the cam work is shaky on a distractible level.
Abandon all hope of not hurling, all ye who watch this movie.
Stock characters abound. Meet Scarlet (Perdita Weeks) the intrepid archaeologist. She’s a Lara Croft-esque, multi-PhD holding, black-belt wielding explorer on a rather personal mission to find the Philosopher’s Stone. She is assisted by her multilingual, multitalented ex-lover/ex-colleague (Ben Feldman, Ginsberg of Mad Men). They exchange witty barbs as they try to solve the Catacomb’s maze-like interior and uncover passages that tourists have never seen. The two are accompanied by a Frenchman explorer called Papillion (Francois Civil) and a few hangers-on. Plus there’s a documentarian, Benji (Edwin Hodge of The Purge: Anarchy), with a handheld camera just to make things even shakier.
The team squeezes though passages and navigates over piles of bones. They encounter crumbling rocks and cracking ceilings. The atmosphere is spooky, and promise abounds for viewers. The set-up is so sweet. Of course, the Catacombs aren’t simply a place to house skeletons. A strange man, the Mole (Cosme Castro), keeps appearing at random. A lot of the creepy stuff happens offscreen, which makes things seem scarier then they really are. The sound design is also better than this movie deserves. The filmmakers create a taut atmosphere that generates thrills until the team’s return passage disappears.
Once the team realizes that they cannot exit the Catacombs in the same way they entered, things fall apart. Since this is a horror movie, the team stupidly thinks nothing of encountering an inscription of Dante’s famous line, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” At this point, this movie loses its bearings with reality. The gates of hell have duly opened to the film’s audience and possibly the characters within the film itself. Down starts to feel like up, and ghosts of the past materialize. Audience members who can suspend their belief may enjoy the rest of the ride. I liked it but not for the reasons the filmmakers intended. As Above, So Below didn’t scare me, but I laughed a lot. Laughing is good for the soul.
Anyway, sh*t gets really weird, really fast. There’s some ghost-y stuff. These caves know these explorers’ pasts! Some of the team members bite it, but no one cares. The newly dead are forgotten. The characters freak out as their unresolved pasts come back to haunt them. The movie turns into a hybrid of The Decent and The Da Vinci Code making violent love to parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and sprinkled with a touch of Flatliners.
Mostly, I cackled with glee at the characters’ peril aside from a seemingly genuine panic attack from one of them. There are passing seconds of this movie that are genuinely dreadful, but it’s not enough. Is this movie worth your time? It boasts a suitably creepy setting hundreds of feet under one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The atmosphere feels authentic — it’s just ruined by high-school haunted house drama and dumb characters who spout unconvincing dialogue. As Above, So Below enters locations not viewable by the public. If you’ve never been fortunate enough to visit Paris, the film is a nice way to see a prime tourist attraction. Or to get your make-out on in the back row.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.