Film Review: As Above/So Below

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Plot: A young academic (Perdita Weeks) leads a group of explorers down ancient catacombs in Paris to discover the mythical philosopher’s stone. As their journey progresses, they realize there may be something more supernatural further down these catacombs.

Let’s get this out of the way first – Found footage movies and I don’t get along. But there are rare times where its been successful (Cloverfield, Chronicle). As I watched the first scene of this movie play out, it was the worst kind of found footage experience possible. Shaky cam left and right. Annoying protagonist. Completely random and scattershot. I was ready to take a cyanide pill. But as I got past that first scene, this movie surprisingly becomes pretty damn interesting. Yes, I am just as shocked as you are. I think where this movie works, where so many others like it (Paracrap Activity) fail, is that it truly feels like its building towards something. Does it suffer a lot of the traps that most of these movies do? Absolutely. But to the film’s credit, it kept me engaged all the way through, and for this genre, that’s saying something.

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Right off the bat, I liked the characters. Where so many found footage movies give us the most annoying stock characters you can image, this one goes against the grain. They actually infuse some personality into these people, and even give them developed back stories that play into the plot seamlessly. The main character (Scarlett) is established early on as a super smart academic with a million degrees.  She’s annoying at first, but you quickly admire her drive to uncover historical artifacts, which is also her greatest weakness. We also get her long time acquaintance, George (Ben Feldman), who knows all too well the trouble Scarlett brings. I liked that dynamic between the two. His resistance in going along with this builds up nice tension to the ultimate “Holy crap” moments we know are coming. The other noteworthy character is Papillon, who leads them into the catacombs. He’s played with a lot of charisma by Francois Civil, and has a couple great comedic lines. The rest of their crew is downplayed, but are still solid and likable characters. There’s also Scarlett’s cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge), who gets involved in one of the most tense sequences in the film, as the characters are forced to climb through bones.

What shocked me most about these characters are their demons, which are paid off really well as the movie goes along. This is a found footage movie with an actual script. Imagine that? Where this movie really gets it right though is that it explains enough of what’s going on, but doesn’t over explain. It doesn’t shy away from showing creepy stuff, it’s all front and center. In a Paracrap Activity movie, you maybe get a speck of dust that moves in the corner of the room, and we are supposed to “Oooo” and “Ahhh,” but get no pay off whatsoever. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but the shaky cam actually works in this movie. It’s shaky, but you still see what’s going on.  It makes for a really scary and grim atmosphere. I don’t want to give away too much of what this whole deal is, but I was glad to see this material explored. This was basically Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, but not a comedy.

As I mentioned earlier though, this still suffers from a lot of found footage movie problems. While they do a good job of keeping a cohesive narrative and mystery, there is plenty of random shit thrown in that doesn’t get a proper explanation. We get the quintessential creepy girl that walks by the camera who serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. This isn’t the only time a random character pops up for no reason. That stuff pissed me off.

I’m probably making this seem better than it is because of how awful these types of movies generally turn out.  At the end of the day though, it had some good jump scares, really cool shots, and most important of all, I wanted to see what would happen next.  I also like what they did with the ending.  It wasn’t the typical Blair Witch Project ending that makes me ask, “So why did I even watch this?”  Is it going to explain every little detail that pops up, and hand everything to you neatly on a silver platter?  Hell no.  And if you’re expecting that, it’s your own fault. It runs a bit long, but this is an entertaining atmospheric movie with a satisfying conclusion, and much better than I expected.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)   

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.