As Above, So Below
The deeper underground our heroes go, the lamer the film gets.
By Max Weiss. Posted on August 29, 2014, 12:40 pm
As Above, So Below has discovered a new ring of hell: Tedium.
The deeper in the bowels of hell our intrepid group of beautiful spelunkers went, the lamer the film got.
At least it started out okay(ish).
Gorgeous and fearless Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is the world’s youngest archeologist, geologist, linguist, and philologist (and she has a black belt in krav maga, lol). Her father, also an archeologist, died in ignominy while searching for the philosopher’s stone (oh hai, Harry Potter!), which, most of his colleagues don’t believe exists but, by legend, gives eternal life to anyone who possesses it.
To save her father’s good name, she recruits her scholarly ex boyfriend (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman), along with a documentary filmmaker (because what is a horror film anymore without that “found footage” feel?), and a group of Parisian street punks, to help her search the underground catacombs of Paris for the elusive stone.
Generally speaking, I like the kinds of films that combine ancient mumbo jumbo with caving helmets. And for a while, I definitely had fun, especially as the doors to the catacombs kept disappearing and they were all forced to go lower and lower, at one point shimmying on their bellies across a narrow sea of rat-infested bones.
But eventually, it just became one too many clouds of dust and avalanches of rock and swirling cameras and flashes of spectral figures as the gang fell deeper and deeper into the tombs. Films like this, of course, thrive on claustrophobia and darkness. You’re supposed to want the heroes to escape, and maybe you’re supposed to want to escape yourself, but not because you’re getting a little bored.
And then, as is so often the case with horror films, the payoff is unsatisfying. The film’s version of hell is surprisingly self-helpy: Confront your guilt and maybe you have a chance of getting out of hell alive. Conveniently, all of our tomb raiders have some dark secret in their past they are haunted by. This poses the question: Does the film assume that we are all harboring the burden of guilt for someone else’s death? (Incorrect assumption, film!).
As Above/So Below has no internal logic. It makes up the rules as it goes along. As such, as our heroes get more and more lost, it eventually loses us, too.
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.