Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.
I’m not a huge fan of the found footage subgenre. In fact, one of the only things that makes them remotely tolerable for me is that they tend to be pretty short, so they don’t hurt my brain and eyes that much. As Above, So Below manages to buck that trend, sadly, running just over 90 minutes. It also follows a very different path from the typical found footage movie. This is not going to just be running around with an unfocused camera always getting to what is happening a few seconds late.
In the way the story works, there are a number of parallels I can draw to As Above, So Below. The first and most obvious connection is that it’s very much an escape room. A group of people are put into a terrible and dangerous situation and more or less have to think their way out of it. Naturally, not everyone makes it out. What we’re going to get is a lot of puzzle solving while weird and supernatural things are happening. There are also similarities here to books/movies like The Da Vinci Code in that we are dealing with ancient relics and secret codes designed to keep a particular treasure hidden, which means there’s a touch of National Treasure here as well. There are elements of the Indiana Jones style films here as well—booby trapped passages and weird occurrences make this a natural connection.
What it really feels like, though, is an old Dungeons & Dragons module called The Tomb of Horrors. This was an adventure that was specifically planned to be as brutal and lethal as possible, and only the smartest, gutsiest, and luckiest characters had a chance to get out alive. Any group that went through the ToH were almost guaranteed to lose a good chunk of the party. There’s that same kind of feel of constant danger and traps that need to be thought through to avoid (not that any of them seem to be avoided).
We’re going to be following Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), who is very close to the Tom Hanks character from the Dan Brown/Da Vinci Code movies. Scarlett speaks multiple languages, including a couple of dead ones. She’s got multiple advanced degrees, and is an expert in, of all things, alchemy. She is doggedly pursuing all leads she can find to where Nicolas Flamel may have hidden the Philosopher’s Stone. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this may have just twigged something in you. J.K. Rowling’s use of him aside, Flamel was a real person, reputed to have been a skilled alchemist, and allegedly in possession of the secret of the philosopher’s stone. This stone was said to be able to turn base metals into gold and to provide eternal life.
After a discovery in Iran, Scarlett and her cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge) head to Paris to investigate the catacombs. Her research has led her to thinking that the stone is somewhere underneath Paris, hidden so deviously and cleverly that it has avoided discovery for centuries. With her ex-boyfriend George (Ben Feldman), she hires Papillon (Francois Civil), his girlfrield Souxie (Mario Lambert), and their friend Zed (Ali Marhyar) to lead them below the city in what is ultimately an illegal search.
Here’s the thing—you know this is going to get freaky and weird, and of course it does. All of the clues the group finds leads them toward a place where the stone might be kept. But there is a trick to leaving—the phrase “as above, so below” essentially means that once the stone is found, where they go becomes a mirror image of where they have been. All of the old philosophical chestnuts of reversals start to become true—you have to go down to go up, and you have to penetrate deeper to leave.
Along the way, we’re going to get a few deaths, of course. There’s a moment in the film where Benji gets stuck in essentially a tiny passage that I personally found very triggering and had difficulty watching. There are a few good scares, but these are few and far between and tend to be clustered in the last half hour or so of the film.
I’m not kidding when I say this is like watching people play through an escape room. If that’s the kind of thing that excites you, you could do a lot worse. That said, the camera work as usual really pissed me off and eventually nauseated me. I really don’t like found footage.
Why to watch As Above, So Below: It’s more or less Escape Room: The Movie.
Why not to watch: If you don’t want to watch people run through an escape room...