As Above, So Below

3 out of 5

Directed by: John Erick Dowdle

What starts off as a Tomb Raider / National Treasure-riffed quest for the philosopher’s stone – the alchemical myth of an element capable of transmuting anything into anything else – pokes and prods its way toward unexplored tunnels of the Parisian catacombs.  When our Lara Croft, Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) manages to procure a guide – the wink-wink named Papillon (François Civil) to take her, her cameraman, Benji (Edwin Hodge), and a reluctant translator, George (Ben Feldman) through some not-opened-to-the-public tunnels on their way to this purported ‘treasure filled’ chamber, the movie takes its first dip into the haunted house spooks it will offer up by glancing at cultists doing creepy culty things, having everyone crawl down a tight, bone-filled tunnel that collapses in on itself, and talking up a “no one goes that way, it’s evil” passage and a companion who went missing in the tunnels some years back and if you didn’t eyeroll when they spoonfed these things into the script, you definitely did when they inevitably go down said evil passageway, and find said missing companion.

But that’s okay.  This is the Dowdles – director John Erick and cowriter Drew – and this is a first person / faux-documentary horror flick, at which they’ve proven quite skilled, so we’re sort of conditioned to the way these things force us into spectacle.  And I like this genre, and I like that we’ve gone far enough that we can just accept cuts between the cameras in each character’s headlamp without explanation; that a treasure seeker filming her hunt is really all the narrative we need, and so As Above, So Below moves past all of this relatively quickly, and then just sort of shrugs and goes full on haunted house and kicks Paranormal Activity-type jump scares to the curb by welcoming the supernatural and introducing some cool plot concepts that threaten to give As Above a story.

I mean, it doesn’t get there.  The story is essentially squandered, and there are ample bullshit shots of wasted time where characters freak out about getting stuck in tight passageways, or the sound cuts out and the lights blink on and off because we need to get to 90 minutes.  But then the flick swings back into overdrive soon after, and it’s generally a pretty good time.