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As Above So Below (2014)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/2/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/4/2014
If you've ever been near the esoteric end of the cinematic spectrum (or to put it in terms that older readers will understand "The artsy section of the video store"), then you've no doubt seen a movie which left more questions than answers. It seems to be acceptable in certain circles to create movies which are intentionally ambiguous and ask the audience to "decide for themselves". Personally, I chalk this up to lazy writing, as I could easily "decide for myself" without sitting through your boring movie. In a similar vein, there are movies which feel as if someone forgot to fill in the blanks. These movies give the sense of being a rough draft which was meant to have more meat on its bones, but this somehow didn't happen. As Above So Below certainly fits into this mold.
As Above So Below introduces us to Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), an archaeologist who is attempting to complete her late father's goal of finding the "Philosopher's Stone". (Insert your own, "Why doesn't she just as Harry Potter?" joke here.) As film opens, we see Scarlett narrowly escaping death in Iran, as she comes across an ancient idol which holds the key to deciphering a code which has eluded her. We next see Scarlett in Paris, where Benji (Edwin Hodge) is documenting her quest. She approaches her old friend, George (Ben Feldman), with her new discoveries and asks for his help. Their research leads them to believe that the Stone may lie in the famous Catacombs which run under the streets of Paris. An anonymous tip leads Scarlett to Papillon (Francois Civil), a young punk who knows the Catacombs well. Soon, Scarlett, Benji, George, Papillon, and his two friends, Zed (Ali Marhyar) and Souxie (Marion Lambert), are entering the Catacombs on what should be a challenging, but relatively straight-forward quest. Not only do they quickly get lost, but they all begin to see objects and figures from their past. Has the stress gotten to them or is something else going on?
As Above So Below comes from the Dowdle Brothers, with John Erick Dowdle serving as Co-Writer/Director and Drew Dowdle doing duty as Co-Writer/Producer. You may know them as the team behindQuarantine, the American remake of [Rec]. Well, it appears that they are attempting to remake another European classic, although this time unofficially, as As Above So Below has a lot in common with Neil Marshall's 2005 shocker The Descent. In both films, we watch a group of explorers descend underground, only to run into trouble. The terror of being trapped underground is then multiplied when the spelunkers learn that they aren't alone. The Dowdle's film even includes a shot in the finale that is either a visual reference or simply a rip-off. Marshall's film is a master-stroke of a head-fake, as we assume that it's just about cave exploring and then become so much more. As Above So Below wants to have a similar approach, but things get for too jumbled in the film's second half.
One of the main problems with As Above So Below is that it can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be. The opening brings us shades of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, as we watch Scarlett escape from the caves in Iran just before they collapse. From there, much of the movie plays out like a very standard action/adventure mixed with a thriller, as we watched the group try to find a way out of the Catacombs. But, As Above So Below actually wants to be a horror film. You see, Scarlett's quest has either unlocked some sort of mystical power or she's lead her team to hell, I'm not quite sure which. Either way, the group begins to see things which are linked to traumatic experiences from their past. But, they also see robed figures and monsters. The third act becomes a jumble of ideas, none of which gels. Things get even weirder when during a portion of the finale when backtracking is involved. Anyone who's played video games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill are familiar with the fact that at some point the player will have to follow their own tracks in order to solve a puzzle, but to watch it happen in a movie, is decidedly dull.
It would be very easy to classify As Above So Below as The Descent meets Flatliners, and, indeed, that's what the trailer implied we would get. The problem is that we get too much of the former and not enough of the latter. The bulk of the movie is comprised of the group going through tunnels, as they bicker and look for an exit. This is one of those movies where something is always happening, but as we've seen it all before, it has little effect. They squeeze through cracks in the wall, and we don't care. The supernatural elements are sporadic and often make little sense. For example, if the whole point of the film is that the quest takes them close to hell, then why did Scarlett have a vision during the pre-credit sequence. Has she been haunted the whole time? The movie simply feels incomplete, and this is punctuated by the sudden ending. Despite the fact that most of it is very derivative, I liked some of the ideas in As Above So Below, I just wish that the movie could have committed to being one kind of story and stuck with it. To add insult to injury, As Above So Below is yet another found footage movie, and one of the most nausea inducing that I've seen in a long time. The movie makes no attempt to explain how we are seeing the footage shot by the people who were left behind and it would have helped if the movie had been shot as a traditional narrative. The idea of being confronted by sins of the past is a chilling one, but we are simply left with a movie which we'll soon forget.
As Above So Below has to include the obligatory Paris nightclub scene on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt issues related to the transfer. Being a found footage movie, we get the typical static and interference, but the image itself is sharp and clear. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, and the picture produces a nice amount of depth, which ironically helps with the claustrophobic mood. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would hope, the mix really shines once the group is underground. The stereo and surround effects are continuous, as we are treated to the various noises going on around the characters. The effects are nicely separated, so it's clear what's coming from the sides or from behind. The cave-ins and shock scenes offer palpable subwoofer effects which add to the overall feel of the movie.
The lone extra on the As Above So Below Blu-ray Disc is "Inside As Above/So Below" (4 minutes) is a brief featurette which contains a few comments from the actors, who comments on the Dowdle brothers. The Dowdles give us a little tour of the catacombs, and Catacombs Expert (is that a thing?) Gilles Thomas gives a brief history of how bodies were disposed of underground. Unfortunately, we don't learn anymore about where the initial idea came from.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long