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Article by Teddy Durgin

'As Above' Rises Above Its Genre

I hate this whole sub-genre of hand-held, shaky-cam, "found footage" mockumentary movies. They are truly unpleasant viewing experiences. They make my eyes hurt. They look like they could be shot by anybody. They don't translate well from the big screen to the small if you miss 'em in theaters. And I just think the trend has played out. Seriously, how many years has it been since "The Blair Witch Project?!" So, it takes a pretty darn good one of these movies for me to recommend it. Fortunately, "As Above, So Below" is one such flick. I was surprised at how unnerving this movie was, folks. Was I scared? No. It was a better feeling than that. I was spooked! This is a film that is more about mood and creating a sense of dread than delivering cheap jump-out scares. Oh, the cheap jump-out scares are still there. But most are well placed. They're more releases from the tension ratcheted up by director John Erick Dowdle and his screenwriting partner and sibling, Drew Dowdle. The film centers on a young archaeologist named Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) looking to continue her late father's quest to find the fabled Philosopher's Stone, which reportedly turns base metals into gold. No, it's not somewhere in the bowels of Hogwarts. As it turns out, Scarlett's research takes her to the catacombs underneath Paris -- the 200 miles of underground tunnels where as many as 6 million corpses were buried over the centuries. She enlists the aid of a translator, a documentary filmmaker, a French guide, his girlfriend-assistant and an expert climber to go deeper than anyone has ever gone underneath the City of Lights, promising them all great treasure. What they find down there is the stuff of nightmares ... their nightmares. The movie is better than ... well ... any movie written and directed by men named Dowdle has a right to be. For the most part, the shaky cams affixed to the mining lights atop each character's forehead are effective at "putting you there" with the search team. On the downside, the shaky cam work is infuriatingly distorted whenever there is action in the film. I wish Dowdle had found a better way to film scenes of running, fleeing, climbing, and other action better. But there are some instances where Dowdle finds just the right point to fixate on and deliver the maximum creep factor. There's a truly frightening scene in which Benji, (Edwin Hodge) the documentary filmmaker, becomes stuck in a tight crawl space littered with old bones. He begins to freak out as the bones start to swallow him up like quicksand. All the while, a sinister cult somewhere else in the catacombs is heard singing some freaky choral chant that seems to be getting closer and closer the more Benji struggles to free himself. Yikes! There's another scene where Scarlett and her crew find themselves at one of the deepest parts of the catacombs and suddenly they hear an old phone ring ... and ring ... and ring. When they finally find the phone and answer it, it's a really weird and unsettling moment. I also liked the fact that the characters were intelligent people for the most part. Scarlett and her translator friend, George (Ben Feldman of "Mad Men"), have multiple college degrees and use their knowledge and expertise to try and think their way out of the catacombs. Because they are all motivated by the promise of treasure and academic discovery, it makes sense that they are all on their quest. And when the catacombs start messing with their minds and will not let them escape, the audience can't shout advice at the screen like "Don't go in there!" or "Go back! Go back!" In almost all instances, these poor souls have no choice but to continue going deeper and deeper... "As Above, So Beyond" is rated R for bloody violence, terror, and language throughout.


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