Found-footage horror films are a dime a dozen these days, growing in popularity since the first Paranormal Activity film seven years ago and fueling unwatchable copycat mediocrity. The scares are cheap, the storylines are bland, and the originality is nonexistent. Thankfully, As Above/So Below manages to break past these barriers and create a new, atmospherically tormenting energy.
One of the key aspects that makes As Above stand apart is its historical context. It is based on the real-life Catacombs that exist underground in Paris and the history that accompanies these Catacombs, particularly the manner in which it they were used as an underground cemetery and hold the remains of over 6 million bodies.
As Above/So Below is led by a valiant and uncompromising heroine, Scarlet, whose main goal is to enter the underground tunnels of the Catacombs in search of the Philosopher’s Stone—a journey her own father embarked on that resulted in dementia and suicide. With the help of her friends and a mysterious but trustworthy group of French explorers, Scarlet enters the Catacombs in search of the mystical Stone, which she believes holds the key to immeasurable power.
As the group descends into the Catacombs, it is not long before physical obstacles and an overwhelming sense of dread washes over Scarlet and the explorers. They plunge deeper and deeper into the unknown, and the dark mythology becomes palpable through hellishly surreal imagery. Shaky cameras and tightly closed areas make for a very chilling experience, so this is not a film for anyone with claustrophobia or motion sickness.
As Above progresses with subtle intelligence, requiring one to listen to each character’s backstory and the manner in which it plays into the film as it progresses. There is a constant, unnerving feeling of hopelessness as the group continues to descend thousands of feet underground in their attempt to escape. Essentially, As Above is a gritty survival film that just happens to step into the boundaries of mysticism and occult-like terror.
As a whole, the film is as cleverly constructed as much as it dark and menacing, despite its somewhat mediocre final act. However, this does not take away from its intensely distressing sequences and hypnotic cinematography. The Catacombs feel like a demonic presence all their own in the film, making the film all the more enjoyable for genre fans.
Of course, As Above/So Below is not a timeless horror classic. It uses typical jump scares and found-footage camera effects that we’ve all seen before. However, it stands apart as a mythological look into real history, capturing actual imagery of the skulls and bones that lie in the underground tunnels of the Catacombs in Paris. It is graphically dismal yet beautifully macabre, which functions in perfect duality with the frightfully suspenseful nature of the film. Despite its murky repetitiveness and cheap thrills, As Above/So Below is a bone-chilling tale of survival and the inner demons that haunt us, both above ground and below.