Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: As Above, So Below

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Just when I thought I couldn't handle another found footage horror movie, one comes along that is actually pretty frightening and better conceived than most of its brethren. That being said, I still can't wholeheartedly endorse the picture. Its dialogue is frequently exposition after exposition - and when it's not, it fares even worse. However, "As Above, So Below" is still a pretty jolting experience based on an intriguing concept.

Rather than give a rundown of the endless string of clues that lead our protagonists - explorer Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), her pal George (Ben Feldman), a camera man and a few French tour guides - to the catacombs of Paris, suffice it to say that they come to believe that the fabled Philosopher's Stone, which was believed to help rejuvenate the body and grant eternal life, is buried within them.

This is a great concept because, quite frankly, I can think of nothing creepier than crawling around in a darkened tomb that is home to more than six million corpses. And there's a clever twist that involves the explorers coming across the words "abandon all hope ye who enter here." Look that up and see what it entails.

If you're uncomfortable watching extremely shaky camera work, then this is not the film for you. In fact, I'd say this picture is the best (or worst, depending on how you view the style) example in recent memory. I didn't have a problem with it, but I heard others exiting the theater talking of migraines.

And as for the aforementioned dialogue, when characters aren't spouting off hypotheses, they're discussing barely developed back stories about suicidal fathers and drowned brothers. The script, in other words, doesn't add up to much.

On the other hand, the filmmakers do a pretty solid job of creating a claustrophobic effect as the characters are often forced to crawl down tight corridors, walk through muddy water or swim into creepy crevasses. I truly wonder where and how they filmed the picture as it doesn't look to have been a comfortable shoot.

And the scares are pretty genuinely earned. Much of what we see is darkness with slight illumination coming from the headlamps worn on the characters' heads, making it easy for stuff to suddenly appear before your eyes without having the generic effect in so many of these types of movies where things fly out at you. And another element of "As Above, So Below" that I appreciated was that it is not quite as bleak as some of the others of its genre.

It's certainly not the best found footage movie (it doesn't come close to comparing to "The Blair Witch Project"), but it's a hell of a lot better than all those dreadful "Paranormal Activity" sequels - and certainly scarier.

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