There is something so terrifying about the world as it naturally is that the inclusion of demons and the devil seems counter-productive. The pitch-black of shadows, the winding corners of the abandoned warehouse you just had to explore, and the loudness of the silence. You can wet your pants just going camping.
It’s this very reason “As Above/So Below” succeeds, before inevitably caves itself in through rushed clichés, marketable pitfalls.
Starting off like a found footage Indiana Jones, the film centers on a young archeologist named Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) who can speak 4 known languages and 2 dead ones, coming off as a less sexualized Lara Croft.
Like many young film characters her goal to find an ancient artifact is done more so to appease a dead family member—her father who committed suicide— then her herself, and eventually leads her and a team of baby-faced “experts” (I would call them stock characters, but whatever) down to the Paris catacombs.
The artifact in question is the Philosopher’s Stone and the man they are investigating is Nicolas Flamel. Though an intriguing premise, I couldn’t get over that these are actual objects and characters outside of “Harry Potter”. Small world, huh?
Once down in the catacombs, which are said to house about six million corpses, the team discovers they are indeed trapped in a maze of corridors.
Consisting mostly of headlamps, very little light is used to highlight these narrow passages, so every twisted corner is engulfed in an impenetrable shadow. If people with claustrophobia issues can get past the palpable one-shot of the camera guy getting stuck on the way down, then things won’t get much better for them.
Director John Erick Dowdle crafts the scenes so well that what’s really scary isn’t the fact there could be demons or creepy crawlies down there, but the foreboding sense of dread to accompany every heartbeat that tells you to turn back. There’s a fear of sneaking into places like this, whether it’s a blocked section of a forest or an abandoned house. It’s the mystery in the history of the environment that’s terrifying.
When the movie later delves into demons and allusions them being in Hell does it sink into a crevasse of “been there, done that”.
These allusions start off when a mysterious phone rings with demonic crackles on the other line, and then when one of the characters casually notices a piano in the corner, and thanks to a messed up key, discovers it was his own as a child—insert fawned gasp.
It’s not until much later that the rest of the team is encountered by demonic beings, who take them down one by one as if they were Oreos. This is where it seems the movie was directed by two different people who realized they were making the same movie and just mushed the half together.
Some of the team dies at the hands of demonic apparitions who throw them down a hole or bash their brains in. Other die via apparitions—like a burning car with a member’s dead friend inside—that suck them in and kill them. One method of demise tries to stick to the roots of the movie, the other tries to add an unnecessary devil vibe.
Who cares? Why does it have to involve the devil to make it scary? The first half was doing perfectly good job of it until stone demons pop out of the wall (who are hilariously knocked down, twice). There’s nothing wrong with a simple, terrifying cave diving movie where the cave is the main baddie. When other lame demons come in to try and take over screen time is when you lose me, and everyone else.