As Above, So Below has one of the most unique horror premises in a while: a team of explorers go spelunking in the catacombs below Paris and as they enter rarely-explored sections, they discover that they might be in a portal to Hell, or something like it. Too bad it takes forever for the story to actually get around to exploring that premise. The lead spelunker is multilingual, multi-degreed Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), who is carrying on the work of her late father of finding the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance said to have alchemical and life elixir powers. A prologue of Scarlet searching for clues in an Iranian cave suggests that the hellish nature of underground locations may not be limited to one place, as she sees a vision of a man hanging himself that serves as a bit of foreshadowing. Following this prologue is approximately 45 minutes of Scarlet and her crew in Paris figuring out how they are going to enter the catacombs, and it is just as boring as it sounds.
Much has been made of the fact that As Above, So Below is yet another in horror’s found-footage sub-genre, and the talk I have seen is generally bemoaning that there is yet another fake documentary in the arena. As Above would have worked perfectly fine without this gimmick, even though it actually does attempt some interesting techniques with it, such as placing mounted cameras on everyone’s cave headgear, which solves the problem of limited realistic camera angles. But, ultimately, this movie does not make sense as found-footage because there is no reason for this footage to be found, because (SPOILER ALERT) multiple characters survive and presumably hold onto the footage.
The failing of As Above, So Below is that all of its worthwhile elements are crammed into the last act. This is either a failure of pacing, or a failure of not having enough ideas to fill out a feature length. I actually think it is mostly the former, as the last 15 minutes or so show the weird, exciting adventure that this film could have been all along. Ultimately the catacombs are less Hell but something closer to purgatory. It is a gauntlet that can be survived, if those who pass through it prove worthy. Scarlet and her crew are haunted by terrible memories of their past, specifically, moments when a loved one died that they fear they could have done something to prevent. The ghosts of these loved ones can serve as agents of either retribution or forgiveness, which could have led to some fascinating psychological territory. But this pattern is a little inconsistent, and it takes too long for it to become clear for it to have its fullest effect. As Above, So Below does, however, feature a first-person perspective of Scarlet punching not one, but two, monsters in the head, after more than an hour of everyone having no idea how to fend off the evil creatures. C+