Thursday, October 11, 2018

As Above, So Below (2014)

Well this fits nicely next to Verónica, because writer/director John Erick Dowdle also directed Quarantine, the American remake of [Rec]. It all ties in!

Maybe because it was actually filmed in the Paris catacombs, or that there are some genuine moments of "oh fuuuck", or that I was reminded that it follows Dante's Inferno... and maybe all three, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this the second time around.

This found footage flick follows a group as they break into the intensely claustrophobic catacombs that lie beneath Paris. They're searching, we're shown in annoying scenes of exposition/set-up, for a mysterious ancient stone and possibly treasure, too. Lead character Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a tomb-raider style daredevil daughter of some old bloke who discovered the secrets of alchemy. Or something. I dunno, it's not really that important.

On their underground adventures, Scarlett and her accumulated crew (including Ben Feldman, "Ginsberg" from Mad Men) find both the desired stone and loot, but in the process, they also encounter cults, violent apparitions of their past, and maybe even Satan himself.

Honestly, the plot is kind of secondary to what Dowdle is trying to achieve (down) here. 

Rather than do the decent thing of just losing their minds with fright after the first cave-in, the group continues on as they become repeatedly trapped and blocked in their passage through the catacombs; journeying deeper, further, squeezing through tiny tunnels and dropping down bottomless-looking pits.

For an atheist, I do still find religious/blasphemous-tinged horror pretty unnerving when done correctly (just ask Baskin) and so as the weary travellers realised they may be descending into Hell, I definitely found it an unnerving experience. The imposing darkness and impossibly labyrinthine routes they take don't help to un-jangle the nerves, either.
According to mythology, that's the inscription over the gates of hell.
 − Scarlett.

As the group thins, we learn more about what this system of caves really represent, and how the remaining individuals might escape. The aspect of the narrative with the mystical stone is absurd, but at least it allows for some more scares.

Two impressive set pieces have always stuck in my mind from this film, even when I initially wasn't convinced of its merits. The burning car deep underground, and the manhole cover scene at the film's end. For all the irritation I felt at Scarlett & Co. at times, the inventiveness and audacity to conceive of and execute both of these ideas is something I must tip my hat to. 

As Above, So Below is an effective, imaginatively claustrophobic nightmare punctuated by solid scares. It must have played brilliantly in a cinema environment.

Ignore the earnest jabbering at the beginning and stick with it, it's streaming on Netflix now.

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