Directed By: Andrew Dowdle
First off, I think it’s about time to make some sort of distinction between what is and isn’t ‘found footage’. Something like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield is essentially found footage. The whole framing device tells us that, but for something like this, or arguably Paranormal Activity the filming is just a conceit, one as natural as choosing to shoot in black and white, or poorly mixed dialogue (I’m looking at you Christopher Nolan).
I only thought of that when I was looking at previous reviews for tonight’s move As Above, So Below. Mostly it was variations on ‘Can we do without found footage now please!’, a sentiment I find can never come across anything less than obnoxious when it gets said out loud. It happened again with The Visit, which was another pleasant surprise. Yes, doing a movie like this can sometimes be utterly lazy and pointless, but those same movies would be lazy and pointless without it. Put in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, it’s just as valid as anything else. Initially this was one I had initially written off – funnily enough because it looked like another of ‘those’ movies – so I went in with somewhat lowered expectations. Some of that was founded, so to speak, when I started the thing up and was greeted with a slightly over-eager English lady and a lot of shaky stuff going on.
After that opening though the movie settles into a nice groove, and we get a sort of horror-themed version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which I didn’t realise I needed in my life until today. Religious themed horror is a surprisingly unexplored area, mainly because everything seems to revert to the devil is among us type things or just evil children, also possibly down to the devil. Basically, most religious themed horror leads back to the devil (Including, funnily enough, this directors previous movie; Devil) but this one brings in the egyptians and alcamy as well, so it felt like I was getting a little history lesson along the way.
Through some Indiana Jonsing (For that sweet myth fix) our main character realises that she has to go down into a previously unexplored area of the Paris catacombs because she believes that the Philosophers Stone is located there. And you thought that was just a thing that JK Rowling made up. Also, if you’re American, then I’m talking about the Sorcerer’s Stone. Let’s see what Wikipeadia has to say:
The philosopher’s stone or stone of the philosophers is a legendary alchemical substance capable of turning base metals such as lead into gold or silver. It is also able to extend one’s life. It’s called the elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and for achieving immortality; for many centuries, it was the most sought-after goal in alchemy. The philosopher’s stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. Efforts to discover the philosopher’s stone were known as the Magnum Opus (“Great Work”). The efforts were unsuccessful.
With the help of some local urban explorers as their guide, and with the promise of treasure as their payment, the group descends down to the parts that are otherwise blocked off. They have to crawl over bones, navigate tiny tunnels, freak out a little and find what they need and everything goes well. The end.
Ok so I’ve made part of that up.
I’m sure someone somewhere had a field day with all the world-building and symbolism in this movie, and in my ignorance I don’t know how much of it is ‘true’, but most people will recognise the many references to Dante and his circles of hell here, including the ‘Abandon all hope…’ quote that’s been etched into a tunnel entrance. Suffice to say that would be up there with one of the scariest things you could stumble upon in real life. That and someone dressed up like one of the cast of Cats. Just think about it.
It’s fair to say I liked this movie quite a bit, even with a rushed third act. As an aside, I hope unsuccessful third acts doesn’t get to be a running theme this month, but I digress. The catacombs are creepy enough as it is, aided by the fact that this was the first movie granted access to filming down there, but throw in some weird cultists, impossible doorways and 700 year old dead men still perfectly preserved and you’re in for a rollicking good time.
Not all of it makes sense, but then it doesn’t always have to and I think it’s possible that I might have missed one or two things that were explained by the dialogue (It’s not possible to go into without spoiling the end, suffice to say it comes way too close to ‘The power was in you the whole time!’ for my liking), and I think maybe just another 5 or 10 minutes might have helped the end, but on the whole I really enjoyed the time I spent down there, in the dark.