by Adam Riske
As Above, So Below might be the biggest mixed bag of the year. Its biggest problem is that it was conceived and marketed as a horror movie (which it’s not good at being) and not the kick-ass adventure movie that it should be. It features an especially committed and affable performance by lead actress Perdita Weeks and an effective, claustrophobic and disorienting style worth noting. I have rarely felt as physically uncomfortable as I have while watching parts of As Above, So Below. I had to drive home with the windows rolled down. It’s effective in that regard.
The plot in brief: A team of explorers venture beneath the Paris catacombs in search of treasure and history. During their excursion, most are faced with personal demons that come back to haunt them.
Let’s start with the good. The best thing As Above, So Below has going for it is Perdita Weeks, who is now my 2014 movie girlfriend. I want to buy her all of the pretty horses. She’s like someone took Jocelin Donahue and gave her the personality of Rachel Weisz’s character in The Mummy (with a Welsh accent to boot). It’s pretty cute how committed she is as the Lara Croft-lite leader of the explorers in this, an essentially goofy late August programmer. She is playing it as if it’s a character for the ages. I appreciated that the Perdita Weeks character wasn’t this rogue who was willing to put the team at risk for her own benefit. Instead, she always cares. And that makes us, as the audience, root for her that much more. The rest of the cast is forgettable but agreeable, including a generic second banana guy that looks similar to a poor man’s Andrew Keegan and a French explorer who is basically Cave Banksy, always tagging the caves with his name because he’s the shit. I was happy to see that the movie clearly likes its characters and doesn’t want to punish them, though it certainly is not above doing that. This is a horror movie after all.
As Above, So Below also continues the trend of horror movies that have great opening credit sequences that for some stupid reason play instead over the end credits. The Evil Dead remake did this too. The sequence for As Above, So Below would have been great upfront because it plays a spooky little song called “Hypsoline” by La Femme that sets the tone for the entire movie. This movie easily could have been called Spooky Doings: Cave Kids in the Catacombs.
I also enjoyed how tossed off the reactions were to the scariest imagery in the movie. In one case, there is an area in the cave where naked women are chanting by fire and one of them stares right at our heroes. Cave Banksy is all “Oh yeah, people do weird shit down here.” It undercuts the scares but it’s pretty funny in what I’m sure is an unintentional way. Again, this works better as The Goonies than it does as The Descent.
I mentioned earlier that the movie doesn’t work as horror. There are many reasons why that's true. First, it sets up the movie with the lead character looking for THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. You know, the stone from alchemist NICHOLAS FLAMMEL! So the movie kicks off immediately with a Harry Potter vibe cutting the balls off of the scares until we’re in claustrophicville in the caves. How great would it have been if the adventurer was played by Emma Watson and she’s back solving mysteries? As is, As Above, So Below feels like we’re on Hogwarts business.
When it’s all said and done, I think I love this movie even though I know it’s terrible. Go see it. I want to talk to people about it. I hope you think it is as above average in terms of fun as I did, but be warned: you might think it sucks, like it’s so below you.