In a world where nothing makes any sense, centuries-old riddles are solved with a few moments of thought, and things happen simply because the writers put it in the script. A young history professor, named Dr. Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), is on a mission. She intends to brave the secret, deadly underside of Paris to seek famed alchemist, Nicolas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone. Yes, that same mythical artifact made famous in Harry Potter, purported to turn base metals into gold and to be used to gain immortality.
Scarlett’s father made it his life’s mission to find Flamel’s stone, but the quest drove him to madness, and he hung himself. So naturally, the Indiana Jones-wannabe Scarlett has committed herself to picking up where he left off, bringing along Benji (Edwin Hodge), the apprehensive documentarian through whose lens we see the events of this found-footage style film unfold. Upon risking their lives in Iran finding the lost Rose Key–a code-breaking tool compared to the Rosetta Stone — the pair head to Paris, where the prize supposedly lies hidden below the six million dead of the catacombs.
Conveniently, Scarlett’s old friend/flame George (Ben Feldman) lives in Paris and can translate the Rose Key. However, despite him continually expressing that he wants nothing to do with her mission, she easily cajoles him into joining her every step of the way. He accepts her opinions unquestioningly, even though her decisions are entirely based on assumptions, such as coming up with nearly immediate answers to ancient riddles or following the words of a mysterious stranger. Eventually, they are forced underground with Scarlett’s hired team of outlaw explorers, led by Papillon (François Civil). With their path back blocked, they determine their only way back out is to go down into the depths of the underground, where deadly traps, haunted manifestations of their pasts, and unknown horrors await.
I appreciated the real-life feel lent by the found-footage style of cinematography. However, being able to see virtually nothing at the most tense moments had the undesired effect of disengaging me until things calmed down. This ultimately prevented me from being genuinely scared, a problem I did not have with director John Erick Dowdle’s previous film, Devil. I did manage to stay engaged, especially once Scarlett finally went underground, if only to entertain my wonderings. Is someone going to ask Scarlett why she’s wearing a trendy off-the-shoulder sweater to go exploring underground? Are they going to get lost literally running through a maze of unexplored passageways when there’s no immediate danger? What nonsensical thing will they see, or what random apparition will attack them around the next corner, and will they learn why any of it is happening? The answer to that one — vaguely.
More creepy and weird than outright scary, this film does earn its rating. There are a dozen or so f-bombs, some bloody violence, though much of it is left to the imagination, and disturbing characters and events, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend children seeing it. It does provide something of a message about how guilt, undeserved or not, continues to affect us, but that is largely lost in the shuffle of the accelerated climax.
As Above So Below offers a unique, horror-themed take on the archaeological treasure hunt premise. I came in with low expectations, and it did manage to hold my interest, but I could not suspend my disbelief nearly enough to find much satisfaction in this journey into madness.