“As Above So Below” fails to be original

Jake Dalbey, Staff Writer

Found footage movies, where the film looks as though it being filmed by a handheld camera similar to “The Blair Witch Project,” are a dime a dozen these days, especially when it’s a horror movie. There’s no doubt that movie theaters are victims of this over saturated genre. Think about how many movies exactly like “Paranormal Activity” you’ve seen in the last year.

As imaginable, my expectations were low when I went to see “As Above So Below” (AASB), but what drove me to the theater was my attraction to the plot. A team of explorers find a gateway to hell while underneath France, what’s not to love about that? My expectations, however, seemed to be true as I left disappointed. Simply put: avoid AASB.

What’s horribly obvious not far into AASB, is how wasted of an opportunity the entire experience becomes. Just like a gifted student who doesn’t try in school, AASB takes the easy road when approaching its material, destroying any chance of creating a worthwhile film. It has a decent idea for a plot, but a horrible execution. An archaeologist is determined to unearth the secrets behind the sorcerers stone, a gem fabled to give eternal life, and it was a treasure her father sought his entire life. Assembling a team of French street rats and a few friends, she pinpoints the location of the stone to be in the lost catacombs underneath France, but once inside the trip goes anything but to plan.

The catacombs used for about every scene are brilliant. I can’t stress enough how cool of an idea these buried tunnels present. Dark, moody and atmospheric all come with the descent into eventual madness. At times I felt as though I was going to be sick simply from the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation. Often I found that most of the time the tunnels themselves behaved as monsters trying to swallow the explorers which completely immersed me in the journey. Often it’s said that’s what not shown is scarier than what is shown, and AASB perfectly captures this feeling.

That’s where the positives stop, however, and AASB takes a swan dive into the utterly stupid. The first half of the movie is almost completely spent building up not only the characters’ strengths and weaknesses, but also the heightened tension as the crew falls further and further into the tunnels. You would think this would give time for characters to build and the scary moments to be less expected as anything could come from anywhere. You would also be very wrong.

Nothing about any of the explorers is interesting. The French guides act as stereotypical Europeans and have very little personality. The characters can easily be described as one who doesn’t talk, one who does talk, and one who talks more. Also, if you impersonated a French accent, you would have be at the same level of acting as the French guides.

This is also apparent in most of the archaeological crew. Scarlett, the main treasure seeker, is the best received out of the bunch as she actually feels somewhat real and believable due to her obsessive search for her father’s work. Though she can be whiny and annoying, it is bearable compared to the rest of the characters. Viewers also get their bit of love interest in the form of George, one of Scarlett’s friends who does little but act as an another body, and Benji, the camera operator, who was probably just told to scream and complain for the entire movie.

It is really hard to feel anything but relief when the bodies start dropping, because that meant we were one victim closer to ending this train wreck. The plot attempts to be original by giving each character a specific way they die according to their dark pasts, however, it is hard to know these pasts when they are never explained once, not even mentioned. Someone dies as a result of their negligence to a friend, yet we find this out as it happens. A dead brother torments one of the characters, but it’s never explained how he died until we don’t care anymore. Eventually people start dying close to every few minutes, and it feels as though the directors thought they would bore the audience if their appetite for bloodshed wasn’t met.

All of this brings about the biggest problem of the entire movie, the actual killings. Death should come as no surprise to anyone seeing this movie. It’s horror and meant to scare, but the way each kill is executed is simply sloppy, and the scares that accompany these deaths are even worse. The setting of AASB is incredibly immersing as a medium, where every corner feels like the characters could die from a collapse in or a falling rock, and this is very unsettling. If AASB decided to stay with this method of plot progression, a film about trapped explorers with a hint of the paranormal, I believe it would have reached it’s full potential.

Having the characters’ inner demons and pasts slowly eat away at their remaining sanity as they venture would have hit a chord with me instantly if the intangible mind games of each explorer are what lead to their demises. But what are we left with as our main source of murder and mayhem? White faced men in robes and children with white makeup. Really? That’s the best idea that came out of nearly an hour of build up? Instead of feeling like I was watching an interesting take on madness, I instead felt like I was watching another “Insidious” movie, or really any other ghost story told in the past 10 years. In the end, it gives the impression of a hokey fun-house ride with badly paid actors attempting to scare you by jumping from the walls. If you’re 10 and with a bunch of friends, this is bound to get the desired reaction. For me, however, it just felt like I was standing on the outside looking in waiting for each jump scare to play out.

Wasted potential is the perfect way to describe “As Above So Below.” The trailers, TV spots, and ads all allude to something much more intelligent than what is actually present. It is not like AASB couldn’t have been great. Like Tetris, all the sections were falling into place until that one lone piece decided to ruin everything. It just goes to show that a great setup ca not rescue lackluster acting, cheap thrills, and a horrible ending that not only makes little sense but feels like a giant middle finger to the audience. Excuse the pun, but this flick is bound to get buried by greater competition.