By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
I have grown a bit lukewarm towards found-footage movies. Modern filmmakers have increasingly flocked to this low tech, low budget style for all the obvious reasons. Still, this gimmick has begun to wear out its welcome a bit. Nevertheless, there have been some great movies in recent years that have effectively utilized the style. Gimmick or no gimmick, great films usually have a well-developed story as its solid foundation. No well executed trickery can substitute or compensate for poor writing and acting. The latest found-footage horror movie, As Above, So Below does have an interesting premise, but drags in its build-up to its frights. Also, it ultimately has an anti-climactic ending which definitely weakens its impact. On top of these story development issues, the overly sloppy camerawork really distracts from the action often making the experience frustratingly undecipherable at times.
Using hand-held cameras and mini-cameras worn on the actors’ heads, the movie offers audiences supposed edited footage from a catacomb exploration gone wrong. Scarlet Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) hopes to complete her father’s life work of discovering a legendary treasure hidden deep in the catacombs below Paris. She leads a team of explorers including camera operator Benji (Edwin Hodge), her friend and dead-language translator George (Ben Feldman). and experienced catacomb explorers Papillon (Francois Civil), Souxie (Marion Lambert), and Zed (Ali Marhyar). As the group travels into uncharted territories they encounter some paranormal and supernatural threats with personal ties to their individual lives.
Written and directed by John Erick Dowdle who co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Dowdle, As Above, So Below is often effective in delivering tense thrills and frightening images. The movie starts off as an adventurous expedition full of peril one might expect from an Indiana Jones film, but very slowly builds into a horror flick. The Dowdles take way too long to deliver the horror goods, though. I can appreciate the need to set up the story and develop the characters, and wouldn’t be happy with a movie chockfull of cheap and lame jump scares every few minutes. Still, I grew increasingly frustrated as the build up lagged. To be fair, because the Dowdles and their actors do solid work introducing and developing their characters, making them more sympathetic figures who get victimized by evil forces in the catacombs.
When the movie does completely immerses the audience in horror, the effect is powerful and frightening. The actors all credibly perform as real people would in these scenarios. I nearly felt sick as the movie setting grows increasingly tighter, making me empathize with the claustrophobia of one of the characters. When the movie does culminate to its reveal, everything after this moment feels rather anticlimactic. I expected more of a big finish to the movie, but was disappointed with how weakly the movie ends.
For sure, I recommend watching this movie in a dark setting, but am having trouble recommending that people pay for a full priced ticket to see it. If insistent on catching this movie at the cinema, save some money and see it as a matinee. Otherwise, just wait to rent this or see it via Netflix. The flaws of its writing and production do take away from what could have been an even more intense and frightening horror experience.