As Above/So Below is a frightening descent into the human psyche & the Parisian catacombs


With a relatively unknown cast and a setting in the creepy catacombs lurking below the streets of Paris, does ‘As Above/So Below’ deliver on pre-Halloween season scares?


Ah, Paris. It’s been about a decade since I visited the City of Lights during my junior year of college. With its alluring architecture, decadent foods, plethora of historical sites I’d always dreamed about in books, and dizzying array of lights, my heart was easily stolen like countless other hearts before mine. Little did I know what was sinisterly lurking just beneath its streets – an impressive catacombs network hosting the remains of somewhere between 6 and 7 million people. I’d never thought about it before, but this is an enticing setting for a horror movie. Kudos to Universal Pictures and the filmmakers of As Above/So Below for coming up with such a fresh, brilliant concept.

As Above/So Below features the most impressive movie poster artwork I’ve seen in a while. Perhaps you’ve noticed it while driving or walking by your local movie theater. You can’t exactly miss a crimson poster with a picture of an upside-down Eiffel Tower surrounded by skulls. It’s a very striking visual and it made me want to see this movie even though it didn’t star any big names and I knew next-to-nothing about its writers, director, etc. And while some critics out there aren’t raving about it, I’m glad I saw it.

As Above/So Below is like a mash-up of Indiana Jones and The Blair Witch Project.

As Above/So Below is like a mash-up of Indiana Jones and The Blair Witch Project. That’s perhaps the best way I can describe it. The story revolves around a young archaeologist’s quest to locate the fabled philosopher’s stone, continuing the work of her late father. The movie is done like a mock documentary with narrative and the shaky hand-held camera style made popular by The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. If you’re not a fan of the shaky cam style or are in any way claustrophobic, this is probably not the best movie for you to see on the big screen. Fair warning: it made my roommate dizzy and nauseous, but I was fine.

The movie begins with Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) looking for clues in Iran as to the whereabouts of the stone. For those of you unfamiliar with the legend, or those of you who somehow missed the plot of the first Harry Potter, the philosopher’s stone is said to be made of an alchemical substance that is capable of turning base metals like lead into gold. It’s also believed to be an elixir of life, allowing whoever holds it possible healing powers and immortality. Not a bad treasure to seek if you’re a thrill-seeker who’s fluent in four languages and two dead ones. Next, she makes her way to Paris to visit the home of infamous alchemist Nicolas Flamel, who is said to have uncovered the secret of the philosopher’s stone in the 14th-15th century. Ultimately, her quest leads her to believe that the stone may be buried in the catacombs below Paris, so she recruits a crew to assist her in her search. And that’s when things quickly go awry.

As Above/So Below is a dangerous, frightening descent into the human psyche.

I enjoy a good horror or psychological thriller movie. I think As Above/So Below could be categorized as fitting both genres. The characters are placed in situations that will make you cringe. They’re forced to climb over human bones, spelunk down the blackest of holes and furrow their way through some of the narrowest tunnels I’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing they were all in shape! Aside from the physical perils they find themselves faced with, it also becomes a dangerous, frightening descent into the human psyche, as each of them is forced to confront personal demons that have been haunting them for years.

The terror, madness and extreme danger build to a crescendo at a dizzyingly fast, fun pace (fun if you enjoy that sort of thing … I personally revel in all things horror and supernatural-related so I was quite in my element here) through the Gates of Hell (who knew that was actually just below the catacombs?). However, once the characters are finally pushed so far over the brink, it feels like the filmmakers took them so far out they weren’t quite sure how to reel them back in. The final 15-20 minutes is a confusing blur of activity that leaves you sitting there at the end like, “huh, so this is how the movie ended?” What a shame. Up until that, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I loved hearing the crowd nervously laugh and make comments to the characters on the screen – that’s the biggest part of the fun and spirit of seeing a horror movie in the theater. When I overheard a guy telling his friend afterward, “That ending could have been a helluva lot better,” I couldn’t have agreed more.

The shaky camera angles make you feel like you’re part of their adventure in a way that Indiana Jones never did. 

As Above/So Below was original, fast-paced and engaging. I was hooked fairly quickly on, wanting to know the secrets of the catacombs and the philosopher’s stone. I liked the characters and the hinted romance between Scarlett and George (Ben Feldman, who was ironically also in Cloverfield). The French actors were also very good – specifically, Francois Civil as Papillon (their catacombs guide) and Cosme Castro as La Taupe, who will scare the shit out of you. I think we can all easily relate to the fears of Benji the cameraman (Edwin Hodge, who was also in The Purge). The shaky camera angles make you feel like you are actually a part of their adventure in a way that Indiana Jones never did, and for this, I applaud the experience as a whole. For a person with an interest in history, mythology and horror, it was an excellent mix. It’s a good way to usher in the upcoming Halloween season. My only disappointment was with the ending and feeling like it wasn’t fully thought through, but I guess most movies aren’t perfect.

The only thing you really need to know about the title and the philosophy behind this movie is this: “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing. Thus, whatever happens on any level of reality (physical, emotional or mental) also happens on every other level.” If you can wrap your head around the logic of that maxim, you might also enjoy this movie.


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

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