Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Written by Drew & John Erick Dowdle
Welcome Scribbler Horror Fans! Feind had some free time on his hands the other night and decided to dive into another fairly new one. Did it live up to it’s own hype or was it just crap? Nothing to do but take a look at…
As Above, So Below (2014)
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Written by Drew & John Erick Dowdle
I’m always a little nervous watching a horror film that I’ve heard some of the hype for. When I hear something is “terrifying” or some such I usually find it is more than likely going to absolutely suck or at the very least come damn close to it. My taste in movies and music is usually a bit off from the masses so I was expecting a total snooze fest and a quick stoppage when I hit play on As Above, So Below. So let’s see if it put me to sleep or if the hype was warranted. I do have to also note that I did not watch any trailer for the film prior to watching so that I could go in completely blind with no idea what to expect. I’ll also try to keep this fairly spoiler free for you as it’s new and most of you won’t have seen it yet but more importantly, should you?
So I hit play and immediately any excitement or anticipation I had died with an audible, “Ugh!” Another fucking “found footage” movie! I can’t really hate this style any more than I already do. After having seen the film now I can say this would have been a much better movie if it was not shot in this style. So with irritation I continued watching. As Above, So Below is the story of Scarlett Marlow (Perdita Weeks), an anthropologist, whose father was obsessed with the history of Alchemy and more importantly the search for the Sorcerer’s Stone until it drove him to madness eventually leading to his suicide. Scarlett has picked up her father’s work and is on the hunt for the Sorcerer’s Stone herself. The Sorcerer’s Stone is thought to be the absolute epitome of Alchemy, a stone that can heal and possibly even grant the bearer of it eternal life.
The story itself is excellent and I commend the writing team of director, John Erick Dowdle, and his brother Drew Dowdle for weaving really an exemplary story reminiscent of National Treasure or The DaVinci Code, only cool. The fact is Alchemy was a very real practice being the precursor to modern chemistry and science in general but it was more than science, taking on a religious quality as well, with rituals and what was “magic” at the time. We know today that you can’t just turn one element into another as the practitioners of alchemy sought to do but through their research chemistry, physics and mathematics were intertwined leading to discoveries that form the foundation of modern science. The hunt here is for the Sorcerer’s Stone that was believed to be discovered by famous alchemist Nicholas Flamel and hidden by him. Of course, he left behind clues written in a dead language, Aramaic, that Scarlett must uncover but when she does she needs help interpreting a language that few are able to translate but it’s a movie, she knows someone.
After uncovering the “rosetta stone” in Iran enabling the translation of an undecipherable code written in Aramaic, Scarlett seeks out her old friend George (Ben Feldman). It seems due to some previous shenanigans in archeology she had gotten him arrested and thrown in a Turkish jail for a time. If you’ve seen the classic Midnight Express (1978) you know that’s not a very pleasant place especially for an American foreigner. So naturally George is reluctant to lend his help again but easily enticed by the news of Scarlett’s discovery and where it leads. After some risky searching the pair discover a clue on the back of a stone tablet left by Flamel. The mystery over where Flamel is actually buried leads the pair to the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris but they need help finding their way.
Scarlett and George hook up with some street wise punks who have a way into the catacombs and know their way around. The company totals five as they enter the catacombs in search of Flamel’s tomb. Throughout the film the writers, The Dowdle Brothers, do an excellent job of weaving Alchemy facts and lore combined with Egyptology and early Christianity creating a mystery that is actually believable. Aside from the “found footage” style which is really annoying there was another little annoyance for me, as the group enters the catacombs we’re shown some mysterious corpse painted group chanting as if performing some ritual. It wasn’t necessary and since they don’t have any significance would have been better left on the cutting room floor. This is a pretty mild complaint but one that did annoy me but thankfully they are there and gone in little time though their chanting can be heard throughout. The chant could have just been part of the soundtrack without adding in the painted group which is really just a distraction.
There is plenty of twisting and turning as the group comes to a fork in the road so to speak. One way, the shortest route, is a barred passageway that, of course, no one has ever been seen or heard from again once they’ve entered or the other way which takes them the long way around and they have to crawl through a narrow passage over human remains to get through. Something odd is afoot as the group go through the “bone tunnel” only to end up back at the fork in the road. A phone starts ringing from inside the barred passageway just for a creepy factor and Scarlett, who already wanted to go that way, heeds no warning and barrels in. From here on out As Above, So Below is in the strange horror category as the group finds the ringing phone which delivers an ominous message (DUH!) and then a member is added to the group. The street rat who had mapped out the catacombs by living in them for years had entered the dreaded passageway only to never be heard from again but then here he is! No food or water yet still alive after months being lost in the forbidden passage. He is really not much help either as he appears to be completely batshit crazy now.
However, nothing will deter Scarlett from finding Flamel’s tomb when they are so close, so onward they go. So as not to completely spoil the rest of the film, which is the best part of the film, I’ll just tell you what you can already figure out. The group finds Flamel’s tomb, they find the Sorcerer’s Stone but then just how in the hell do they get back out? Honestly the film is really spectacular from a story telling perspective from this point to the end so I refuse to spoil it as you really need to see it. Plus there is so much to it that it would take me a couple of pages just to explain it all here. Suffice it to say things are strange, creepy, terrifying (if you’re easily scared) and all around really fucked up with secret passageways and hidden doors in what seems to be an unending labyrinth with no escape. It never gets cheesy and really keeps you on the edge of your seat unable to look away, at least it was for me.
So in the end I really liked and hated As Above, So Below. The writing is… to put it mildly fucking superb! However, the “found footage” style of filming made me want to scream and throw a damn brick through the screen. The film could have been a near perfect 10 if shot normally where you can actually tell what the fuck is going on. There are just too many damn scenes where the group is running to or from something and you see nothing but swinging camera shots that about make you fucking seasick and I don’t get motion sickness. It adds nothing and is just incredibly fucking annoying. So if I was rating As Above, So Below on just style it would barely get a 2 out of 10, if I were rating it on the story it would get about a 9.5 so in the end as annoying as the filmmaking itself was, As Above, So Below passed The Scribbler Clock Test based solely on story alone with flying colors. The style definitely brings down the overall rating and enjoyment but the story is so good it makes up for it. All I can say is if you hate this style as much as I do it will annoy you here as well but it is a must see for the story idea itself. I found it intriguing and it kept me on the edge of my seat for at least half the movie. That can’t be a bad thing so As Above, So Below can be dubbed…
*One last thing. This film takes place mostly in (under) Paris, it's horror, it's France - Where's the metal and by that I mean where is GOJIRA???!!!
Have you seen this one Scribbler fans? Let us know what you think in the comments below. Feel free to defend “found footage” films but YOU WRONG!!
Scribbler Movie Reviews
Feind loves watching movies of all kinds so if we watch it, we tell whether you should as well. I'll share mostly horror but I also enjoy everything from big Blockbusters to micro-budget Independent films.
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