When you are a connoisseur of horror films you are acutely aware of the patterns that emerge in certain sub-genres such as ‘psycho killer stalker’, ‘backwoods hillbilly killers’, ‘haunted house’, ‘devil possession’ etc. – they have formulas and if you’ve seen enough of them, you can tick those cues off like blowing out candles; the horrors that truly scare you and stay with you are generally the ones that either wildly or subtly veer from these expected patterns.
‘As Above, So Below’ is a ‘found footage’ sub genre horror movie, as such it has certain marks to hit and it does hit them – to varying degrees of success. Where it differs is in it’s kindness to its leads, the refusal to debase itself in pursuit of cheap scares or the need to make its characters cyphers merely representing the idea of real people rather than taking the risk and giving us characters that are all shades of grey.
These people say petty things, have less-than-noble motivations sometimes, have foibles and secrets that exist to make the characters richer rather than to merely move the story along.
Its leads are intelligent people who use their intellect to find solutions to the many dangers they encounter.
The story concerns itself with a small group of intrepid explorers ranging from enthusiastic and passionate Scarlet (Perdita Weeks in a perfectly honest performance) , her ‘underground hero’ friend Papillion (François Civil)) and VERY reluctant tag along George (the immensely likeable Ben Feldman) searching for the fabled ‘Philosophers Stone’ in the underground catacombs of Paris.
What happens in the catacombs forces them to each come to terms with their own personal demons, indeed the film could be seen as a metaphor for the benefits of facing those things we’d rather forget, battling them and defeating them – an old idea but still powerful.
There is no excessive exposition, the film makers (John Erick Dowdle) trust you to put the pieces together and don’t feel the need to labour a point, this light touch serves the film well.
Another thing to celebrate in this film – when characters perish, the others are genuinely shocked and saddened, they do not just go on as if nothing happened (a malady of many horrors), the camaraderie feels natural and you get a palpable sense of history between Scarlet and George as they reconnect.
This is a horror that should be proud of itself, its disturbing enough to be somewhat scary, humane enough to feel real, makes good use of the unusual and exotic locale and allows it’s characters room to breath.
Not to mention – none of those pesky cliché-ridden endings in sight!