As Above, So Below is a mess. A stinking mess.
Scarlet Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), a doctor in archaology, doctor in chemistry, speaker of six languages, master glassblower and journeyman gourmet pastry chef who works part time as a tech support engineer, is looking for the Philosopher’s Stone. She’s traced it to a hidden chamber in the clearly haunted catacombs beneath Paris. She gathers a reluctant crew to search through the graves, eventually discovering the Infernal Gate.
The film is nonsensical. There’s clearly a lot more to the plot than what is actually shot, and the audience can fill in some of the blanks, but it shouldn’t have to.
While still at street level, Marlowe is stalked by a strange doppelganger who is always staring directly into the camera. She later appears as a cultist in the accessible part of the catacombs, and then reappears once the group enters Hell and kills someone. All of this happens entirely at random, and no explanation is given as to who she is and why she is following them.
In Hell (and well before the enter it), individuals are haunted by regrets and mistakes in their past. Marlowe eventually solves their predicament by realizing they have to “rectify.” No further explanation, just “rectify.” Marlowe is seen confronting her demons, but none of the other surviving characters’ horrors are even mentioned.
Every single sequence in this movie starts with the group in complete darkness panicking over how they don’t know where they are or where they should go, then eventually finding a lavish, ornate set piece that tells them exactly what they need to know to find a way out. Every single sequence.
The further into Hell the group descends, the sillier things get. First there are hooded figures, then there are rock monsters, then the hooded figures are rock monsters –
Recent horror movies have demonstrated that the scariest thing is not really knowing what’s going on, just that there’s a malevolent force that’s out to get the characters, but in this movie you don’t even know that much. They aren’t being haunted, they’re just inside a haunted house, and the movie feels just like one of those.
The ditsy, laughable climactic sequence shot by Marlowe as she runs halfway through the catacombs goes like this – blurry darkness, blurry darkness, blurry darkness, ROCK MONSTER IN YOUR FACE AND MARLOWE SCREAMSblurry darkness, blurry darknessROCK MONSTER – it is literally a haunted house. Like, the kitted-up mall shops you walk through around Halloween that maybe your five-year-old finds scary. Or even mildly interesting.
This summer has been a long series of themed projectile vomit sloppily staining theater screens. As Above, So Below is found footage-themed vomit, and it’s still a powerfully distinctive style. But it’s rarely any good.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. Time to place bets on when the word fappening gets added to Webster’s. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.