As Above, So Below (2014)
Meet Scarlett Marlowe, multiple PHD graduate, fluent speaker of several current and dead languages, with an unfortunate streak of Oedipal rage and her dead fathers obsessively fuelled suicide. When we first spy this impulsive, some may say foolhardy young woman she is sneaking across the Iranian border, secretly filming her furtive expedition to an archaeological tomb which is under threat of destruction by some destructive religious zealots. It’s found footage in technique and frantic whip-pan pacing all the way as Scarlett uncovers ancient clues pointing to the location of the legendary philosophers stone, the holy relic which is able to turn base elements to gold, the search for which she drove her beloved father to his death. Her friend Benji (Edwin Hodge) is recording her search on the streets of Paris as she enlists her old friend George (Ben Feldman ) to translate some clues from ancient Aramaic, leading them inexorably into the medieval Paris catacombs with a couple of gallic hipster tour guides in tow. As the descent proceeds through the eerie caverns the spookiness closes in with thumbscrew intensity, as images and spirits from the entire parties turbulent pasts are animated and made flesh, the cramped lunacy drawing them to the labyrinthine homestead of Old Nick himself…..
If I were to reduce the film to the usual Executive pitch I’d cite As Above, So Below as one part Indiana Jones, one part The Descent with a quantifier of The Blair Witch Project, suffice to say that if you are in any way claustrophobic then you’d best steer well and truly clear of this cramped descent into a garbled but occasionally spooky hell. To its merit the film builds a certain momentum and sense of claustrophobic terror, but it takes a little too long to raise the mortal stakes and at the risk of sounding sadistic it really needed to be much more creatively ruthless if it was aiming to get the hackles arisen. It also labours with that perennial problem of found footage pictures, they usually fail to end the picture on a suitably shriek inducing point which is really the entire point of these rollercoaster rides, you’ve got to leave the audience exiting the theatre with a slight chill and something to clutch each tightly as they make their way to a post atrocity drink, something which the makers of Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch instinctively understood. The cast is adequate with Perdita Weeks as Scarlett not being as irritating as the trailer and opening scenes suggest, and apart from the now clichéd ‘characters walking across behind characters which they don’t see but the audience does’ tricks of the trade the film does offer a couple of genuinely creepy uncertainties.
What are we to do with the whole found footage genre eh? It’s been drunkenly lumbering around for years now, a convenient premise to hang your cheapo budget picture upon, and maybe it still yields with some fading bloodstreaks of the social immediacy of new technologies omnipresent and an increasingly interconnected world. The problem is with credulity and maintaining that spell of authenticity, when we are presented with material edited in a clear linear fashion without extraneous redundancy, and of course quite why the fuck you would continue filming when under assault from horrific supernatural forces is usually beyond absurd. To its credit As Above, So Below evades the latter pitfall with a coherent and logical filming premise, it also efficiently slaughters the threat quenching saviour of mobile communication devices due to the subterranean locale, but it fails in having a French character long-lost in the catacombs encounter the party and immediately start speaking English without explanation – that’s just lazy writing. So a solid three fathom effort which will immediately dissolve from the memory when you stumble back out into the light, it’s a shame they didn’t give a little more thought to some of the mechanics and basic rules of the genre. Now, in a frantic effort to pad this post out to a half reasonable length I guess one should remark upon this years Frightfest, it was a strong year I’m told with a few brutal contenders for future dissection, the aforementioned The Babadook won the audience over with genuine creepy chills, Coherence continues to build significant cult movie buzz following US festival screenings whilst Wolfcop delivers the horror-comedy grins and Creep won the real aficionado’s souls – no trailer yet so we’ll have to make do with this again;