As Above, So Below
Director: John Dowdle
Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge
93 mins; Class 15;
KRS Releasing Ltd

Just when I thought – or, more accurately, wished fervently – that the found-footage film phenomenon had died a natural death, it rears its shaky head again in this Paris-based horror, which actually passes muster as a decent entry in the genre.

Perdita Weeks stars as the passionate, not to say obsess-ive, Scarlett Marlowe, a young brilliant archaeologist and thirsty adventurer.

Weeks is obsessed with finding the legendary alchemist Nicholas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone, an artefact alleged to possess the power to turn metal into pure gold and provide the elixir of eternal life.

Convinced the stone is hidden within the labyrinth of catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, Scarlett recruits her friend George (Ben Feldman), and amateur filmmaker Benji (Edwin Hodge) together with a group of French spelunkers – a word I finally get to use in an article – to venture underground to find it.

An opening sequence depicting Scarlett illegally entering Iran to filch another artefact – which may lead to the whereabouts of the Stone – perfectly sets the mood.

However, like many films in the horror canon, As Above, So Below’s plot overall is a little confusing, with the film-makers so keen to get to the meat-and-potatoes scares of the movie that story takes second place.

The overall plot is a little confusing

The narrative unfolds on dialogue built on mumbo-jumbo and improbable incidents, and it’s not just the protagonists’ nerves that fall apart, but also any sense of realism or coherence.

The strange things that happen – ghostly figures appearing at odd moments, each member of the group revisited by bad memories of their past – never quite make sense.

I did learn, however, that Nicholas Flamel did really exist (and I confess that for a moment there I thought they plagiarised J.K. Rowling and the first Harry Potter book).

As Above, So Below contains no Rowling-like storytelling or richly-dawn characters to speak of.

However, writers and brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle (who also directs) score full marks in creating a gloomy and suffocating atmosphere which will possibly induce anxiety in those of a claustrophobic bent as the protagonists go further down into the catacombs.

They abseil down gaping narrow holes hundreds of feet deep; crawl through the narrowest of tunnels filled with human bones and rats; and swim underwater for what seems like aeons. The Benji character faces some truly scary moments and boy, do we feel for him.

Cinematographer Leo Hinstin enhances the mood with minimal but effective lighting. The found-footage chestnut is woven into the storyline by having all protagonists wearing camera headsets, leading to some overly giddy editing with the point-of-view changing so rapidly at times it induces nausea over and above the claustrophobia.

Not a nice mix and I speak from experience. The film does earn points, however, for despite the obvious banal traps it falls into, it offers an hour and a half of solid entertainment and a couple of scary moments. Fans of the genre will likely lap it up with glee.

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