(The gist: As Above So Below was simply a quality horror movie. It was not exceptionally graphic or violent; however, the fear and suspense were expertly crafted, even using the unfavorable shaky hand camera approach. I was rapt the entire movie and have no complaints, aside from the nausea the filming technique gave me. It made my head hurt, but I could not look away!)
My first job was at a movie theater, and I was there when The Blair Witch Project graced the screens. The one thing I remember from its time at our theater was that someone got sick in every showing (and that I was beyond relieved to working concessions at the time instead of cleaning those theaters). Without fail, every single showing. There could have been one person in the theater; they would have thrown up. As I understand it, this was a regular occurrence due to the shaky hand camera filming.
I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theater (for free, of course), but it did not make me sick. I have never been one for the shaky hand camera, faux documentary filmmaking approach. I can appreciate the perspective it brings and the disorientation it gives the audience, but it is visually exhausting. Maybe the point but I am at a movie; I am trying to be entertained.
As Above So Below succeeded where The Blair Witch Project failed, however. In shaky camming me into nausea. It was probably only because I viewed the movie in the theater near the end of my pregnancy, but nonetheless, all the frantic, flickering, disorienting strobe shots planted a headache in my forehead and bloomed nausea in my round and wriggling belly.
Nausea aside, I loved it.
As Above So Below tracks Scarlet’s desperate search for the Philosopher’s Stone into the Paris catacombs. The movie is really The Davinci Code meets The Descent, both movies which I happened to greatly enjoy. Scarlet researches her entire life and tracks clues through the study of Alchemy to lead her to the hidden chamber deep within the catacombs.
The claustrophobia of the setting is so well executed and effectively portrayed that there is one scene where a character gets stuck where I found myself actually have to breathe my way out of sympathy panic. While the shaky camera did make me sick, it was applied skillfully, providing plenty of unnerving angles and flashes and frightening sequences.
The movie was also a slow burn, in that it took its time before starting to kill off the characters, so much so that you are almost lulled into a false complacency by the time the first one bites it. The suspense is expertly crafted through claustrophobia and disorientation as the characters delve deeper and become more lost and terrified.
A few of the characters are flat and completely undeveloped, more akin to scenery or props; however, the main characters, particularly Scarlet, are fleshed out enough to compensate for this. The focus remains fixated on the round characters, allowing the peripheral to remain at the edges as intended.
The setting, the catacombs, is a character unto itself and is perhaps the most compelling. As if six million stacked human remains were not freaky enough, the character’s ill-fated quest keep leading them down deeper and deeper. Each time they took another tunnel or descent, my heart curled tighter; my lungs felt more constricted. And the deeper they go, the more the catacombs unleash upon them, from nightmares from their own minds to haunting figments in the tunnels.
As Above So Below worked for me, top to bottom. I liked the plot and loved the setting. The characters engaged me to the point of physically sympathizing with their panic. But most of all, I loved the fear. The fear and suspense were beautifully developed and executed. They had me at claustrophobia, yet they persisted with death, figments, getting lost, and being trapped. It was excellently relentless.