I thought As Above, So Below was very, very dumb. And, I’m someone who throughly enjoyed both National Treasure movies. What does that say about me? Not wise enough in general, or wise enough to draw a line? My self-prognosis coming soon.
But, yes, As Above, So Below is as dumb as movies get, and it wants its audience to take it so very seriously. The aforementioned National Treasure movies fill similar shoes (intrepid explorers go searching for valuables in the dankest, darkest places), but at least those filmmakers own up to how silly the material is. It’s what makes those movies fun.
As Above, So Below takes place at a real-life attraction (the catacombs of Paris, France). Since the place is real, the movie expects the audience to accept the dizzying escapades as tangible events. The added found footage gimmick makes the film plead that much more. But when clues are discovered in the most unfathomable ways with characters thinking equally as illogical, we can only take in the film as a fantastical yarn. The film resists against that decision.
The movie has been directed by John Erick Dowdle, and the screenplay has been penned by both John Erick and his brother Drew. If you know a little bit about the brothers, you would think a curse of bad luck has been applied to their careers. Whether they’ve helming a remake of a beloved modern classic (Quarantine) or attached to an M. Night Shyamalan flick in the wake of The Last Airbender (Devil), they just can’t catch a break.
Their latest film’s first-person POV approach isn’t so much a burden because I know these two can make found footage work. Their strongest work was a movie called The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a film documenting a series of “tapes” conceived by a psychotic stalking killer. Unfortunately, the flick was buried and only whispered about through people who have seen the movie because they know a guy who knows a guy. But, I digress.
The Dowdles’ Poughkeepsie Tapes worked because the film solidified itself in a scuzzy realty. It maintained a grim face with the right material. This brings us back to my main qualm with As Above, So Below. The film stumbles and fumbles because its goofiness is dampened by the filmmakers’ incorrect attitudes towards the content and their audience.
The horror isn’t a total loss though. It may be dumb, but it has cool moments that are far out and greatly affective. The catacombs are essentially an underground haunted house that mirror terror. Our heroes travel in circles until they turn pale. The tight confines have move goers taking shallow breathes, and the idea that the only escape is located deeper in the caverns is terrifying. Despite the shaky camera occasionally giving off the wrong disorienting feeling, As Above, So Below has been technically made in a way that effortlessly mystifies the viewer into thinking we’re trapped with this spelunking crew.
However, it’s disheartening to witness the Dowdles believing their film was smarter and scarier than it actually is. If only they had turned to each other with an approving nod during a pre-production rewrite; signalling that they both understood how to approach this sort of dopey escapist entertainment.