Monday, December 21, 2015

Film Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

As Above, So Below (Review)
United States/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Although the film suffers from an annoying main character, the film fares better in the story and horror departments."

Hoping to complete her father's search for the philosopher's stone, Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is led to the Catacombs beneath Paris...

Within the first five or so minutes, you'll have a teaser of everything you'll be getting into. You'll have a teaser of the obnoxious main character, the sensation of adventure, and an idea of the terror – as well as a peak at the shaky cam. (You can't have a found-footage horror film without the shaky cam...) The story follows the unbearable Scarlet Marlowe, a scholar with several degrees and a black belt, as she forces leads her peers, including her close friend, George (Ben Feldman), into the Catacombs beneath Paris. While searching the claustrophobic tunnels, the group find themselves hearing and seeing bizarre anomalies – many reflecting their tormented pasts. The farther they delve, the more tangible their visions become. The climax becomes sort of a run-and-boo ride, but it's decent. The ending was unfulfilling – it felt lackluster compared to most of this horror-adventure.

Before I go any further, let me get this off my chest: Scarlett Marlowe has to be one of the most infuriating characters in recent memory! This is the know-it-all, compulsively-run-into-danger, and force-everyone-to-follow character. I couldn't count how many times she ran ahead of the pack or answered a question for someone else. For example, you have George, who is adamant about not entering caves due to his sad past, but Scarlett won't allow it. When George tries to reject the request, Scarlett will be there to say, "No. Of course he's coming!" You'd expect a character with so many degrees to be a bit brighter, too, but she often runs into danger – I suppose that's more ignorance than sheer stupidity, though. If you don't believe me, watch the first five minutes and you'll have an idea of what's to come. Trust me. Oh, and the other characters don't fare much better in terms of ignorance, which usually lead into plot contrivances, but at least they're not so obnoxious. (There's a scene where they stumble upon this blatantly suspicious ritual and shrug it off. Come on!)

Okay, enough of that. Although the film suffers from an annoying main character, the film fares better in the story and horror departments. The story, which consists of more than just characters, is genuinely interesting. It takes you away from the haunted house and places you into the Catacombs. In turn, this creates a welcomed sense of adventure and discovery - something you don't see often in horror. The objective, searching for this legendary stone, is also great. In terms of horror, most of the film works off of its creepy, nightmarish visuals. I especially enjoyed the figures moving in the background. The visuals are bolstered by the eerie sounds – babies crying, people shouting, and so on. It's really a great audio-visual horror experience. There are jump-scares, too. Some of them are decent, but many fall flat. This is probably due to the fact that most jump-scares come during the final act where the film is hurtling through a barrage of "scares" hoping something will stick.

The acting was good. Perdita Weeks leads the cast with a solid performance. However, although she delivered a fine performance, I felt she was miscast for this role. Although they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, she didn't look like the experienced character she played – she seemed far too young. Ben Feldman offered a great supporting role, though. This film takes a few steps away from the found-footage formula in terms of narrative, but it's still a found-footage film at heart. With that said, expect the usual suspects: a shaky cam, almost to the point of causing nausea, and the conveniently malfunctioning camera. (Oh, something's happening? It might be awesome? Let's make sure we constantly cut, turn off the lights, and move the camera so you can't see.) The film is written by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle; John also directs. Despite some blatant character flaws, including a miscast, I liked the story. John Erick Dowdle also knows how to craft a solid horror movie, focusing more on suspense and atmosphere... at least until the end.

Overall, As Above, So Below is a good movie. I really wanted to love this film, especially with such a creative concept, but the obnoxious main character, the illogical decisions, and the final act hold this film back. It's not a complete waste, though, even with such an unsatisfying ending. The film offers a strong focus on story, adventure, and horror. If you can tolerate the found-footage shaky cam one more time, I'd say give As Above, So Below a shot – at least a rental.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

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