The Catacombs of Paris contain the remains of more than six million people.
Consisting of 200 miles of underground tunnel, much of it uncharted, to get lost down there, to lose your flashlight or to run out of water is to die. A sign above the ossuary entrance reads, “Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”.
As Above, So Below may not be the first horror film to be set among the carved rock and scattered bones, but it still makes for interesting viewing.
Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is a young academic on the search for the Philosopher’s Stone; her father was the world’s foremost expert on 14th Century French Nicholas Flamel. Freshly returned from near and discovery in Iran, she enlists cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge) to her cause and George (Ben Feldman), a former flame, and heads down into the catacombs with the roguish Papillon (François Civil), Souxie (Marion Lambert), and Zed (Ali Marhyar). The latter three are thrill seekers in search of treasure; Scarlett claims to just want the truth.
What As Above, So Below has going for it is is genuinely likable characters: Scarlett is obsessive but sprightly and charming with it, while George is a free spirit who likes to break into historical monuments and fix them up ; only Ben, behind the camera, remains something of an enigma.
The film’s “found footage” format has become a cliche, but John Erick Dowdle uses it effectively: As Above feels less like cinema and more like a home video – Léo Hinstin should be praised for this; a scene in which one of the team find themselves stuck is almost unbearable in its claustrophobia.
As the team begin to fall prey to the catacombs, the film loses itself in gory and horrific visions of weirdness and punishment, ultimately seeming to subscribe to the occult hermetic philosophy from which it derives its name. Playing like The DaVinci Code meets The Descent, As Above is at its best when it commits to (semi-)realism and the psychology of dread.
At the very least, it may make you reconsider that weekend jaunt to Paris…