I have always had a love-hate affair with found footage films. Although, I fear recent offerings have forced me to slip on the spectrum closer to hate. Paranormal Activity in 2007 was genuinely one of my favourite horror offerings in recent years. It was scary; it had the right amount of jumps and bumps in the night and guess what? The found footage style enhanced that, it completely made it. Why? Because it made sense – it felt believable, like something that could happen in your own home, after all the scariest of films are always the ones that feel a little too close to home… Following that successful set up, it seems there has been a deluge of found footage films and I’m just not buying it anymore.

That said, I admit through gritted teeth that, I am in fact always drawn in for one more hit of found footage shaky scares in the hope of emulating the chills I first felt with Paranormal Activity – the first one at least. Cue, As Above, So Below from director John Erick Dowdle – co-written with his brother, Drew Dowdle. It looked interesting and once again I was hooked by the prospect of found footage.

A beautifully scary premise – the catacombs beneath Paris housing thousands of bones and relics of the dead from years gone by – sounds spooky right? All the ingredients are there for ultimate scares – darkness, claustrophobia, religion, death – and what’s more, the found footage style is entirely believable / necessary! The gang are making a documentary and the shaky camera shots, no matter how annoying, are conducive to the fact that they are climbing around underground.

Sadly, it’s the film’s overly intricate and at times absurd plot that lets this potential found footage gem down. We’re given a lengthy bit of reasoning as to why the gang head down underground in the first place – so much so that I began to question whether this could be considered a horror film at all. A longwinded history lesson is not what I signed up for.

A team of explorers venture into the uncharted maze of bones and uncover the secret of what this city of the dead was meant to contain. A journey into madness and terror, As Above, So Below reaches deep into the human psyche to reveal the personal demons that come back to haunt us all. It has much, much more backstory than that but it’s all a bit too overdone to even bother trying to explain it here.

It’s a shame as Dowdle has demonstrated a knack for confined horror in the past; he fitted a whodunnit into an elevator in Devil, and trapped a news crew in a zombie-infested apartment building in Quarantine. Sadly though the plot in As Above, So Below feels like they have taken sections of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Tomb Raider, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and mixed it with a bit of science vs religion patter to boot. Then they realise it’s not scary so they throw in something about the catacombs actually being the depths of hell and having to face their own sins before being able to escape – oh and a few nefarious spectres too. It’s rushed and confused.

The confusing plot mixed with the confusing camera shots will make genre fans turn their nose up at found footage once again. Found footage is the easy target in the horror world nowadays. But, the camera work is not what is wrong. If the story had more clarity the unclear, dark shots would simply be an addition to the spectacularly scary setting.

Of course they needed a bit of a plot to explain why a bunch of peeps decided to climb underground but an attempt to come up with a super-brainy intricate plot has resulted in a load of nonsense which has clouded the horror of the situation.

Dowdle and co should have put more emphasis on the setting. The biggest scares for me came from the feeling of sinking deeper and deeper underground. The more they tried to escape, the deeper they found themselves trapped in dark and watery catacombs creating a suffocating and visceral atmosphere that was sadly lost in a Goonies’ style quest for an ancient jewel complete with puzzle solving and treasure troves.

 

DVD Review: As Above, So Below
2.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.