Sunday, April 10, 2016

As Above So Below

   I'd heard fairly negative things about this movie before I got the itch to see it, so while most everyone is saying that it was a letdown or that it didn't live up to it's potential... I have to disagree. Although maybe that's simply because my expectations were lower? I'm not sure. Either way, As Above So Below is effective in a way that a lot of found footage films aren't. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot, and the main protagonist is annoyingly perfect, but once you can accept those things as necessary evils in order for the story to function, you're more likely to enjoy this claustrophobic thriller.

   I don't need my movies to be perfect for me to enjoy them. If that was the case, I'd be one miserable movie nerd. People act like flawed movies are absolute poison, and the most elite of the closeminded won't even acknowledge that a flawed movie might have redeeming qualities that make it worth watching. As Above So Below is flawed, but it's chock full of redeeming qualities. The premise is fascinating and provides a unique setting for this dark horror flick. Not many horror movies are also treasure hunting movies as well. Comparisons are quickly drawn to Indiana Jones, but I'm more fond of pointing out similarities to National Treasure and especially The Goonies.

   However, As Above So Below trades in the gun-toting bad guys for creepy cloaked figures, pools of blood, and other various horror movie mainstays. It's a different spin on a familiar pretext, and I loved it. There's also the benefit of having a cast full of decent actors. The acting talent ranges from adequate to really good, but never bad. I never once felt that any of the movie's flaws could be laid at the feet of the cast. They all sold the hell out of their roles. Bravo. On top of this, their performances were probably aided by the fact that this was more or less shot on location. That's right. The filmmakers secured the rights from the French government to actually shoot in the catacombs beneath Paris. Woah.

   Knowing that, the sense of claustrophobia that the movie imbues is heightened because you're seeing a real location, and not just a fabricated set with molded tunnels and fake bricks. It makes the whole movie just that little bit creepier. These elements alone, the cast, and the setting, make the movie well worth a watch. I was loving it every step of the way, and as the characters were pressed to go deeper and deeper into the Earth, I got more and more creeped out. There's also fantastic little moments like when one of the main characters translates something etched into the archway of a small little tunnel they all have to crawl through. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here..." As if all of the characters haven't been through enough at this point, our main protagonist informs them that that's the saying- according to mythology, that's etched above the gates of Hell. Oh boy.

    It's show-stopping moments like that, throughout the movie, that really creeped me out. Sometimes it's just a conversation, or a bit of dialog. It's all terribly effective. On the flip side, the main character is horribly perfect. Scarlett is a 20-something young woman, with at least three degrees, fluent in four languages- two of them are dead languages, and she's a black belt in Krav Maga. She literally has no flaws. She never breaks down, never freaks out. She's 100% invincible for the entire movie. She shows no fear, no vulnerability, and that's just not interesting. Sure, she reacts to the jump scares, in much the same way the audience does- but that's shock. Not fear.

   It's said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act despite it. That's something that the Alien franchise understood for a while with their protagonist in Ripley. She was petrified of these things, but she did what she had to do to survive. Scarlett never genuinely seems scared. She seems overqualified to be the lead in a horror movie, it's practically ridiculous. Only once or twice in the entire movie does she show any kind of weakness or vulnerability and it's not nearly enough to seem genuine. The actress, Perdita Weeks, does what she can with the role, and she ends up being likable at least, but not much else.

   On top of that, the cameras are at times excessively shaky, and the characters amazingly never run out of batteries for their cameras and headlamps, but so what? If you want a near-perfect 'deep-in-the-Earth' horror flick, go watch The Descent. Not every movie is going to be on that level though, so enjoy what you can. I enjoyed As Above So Below. It's not perfect, but it doesn't need to be. It's just a straightforward and creepy thriller with enough atmosphere and claustrophobia for any two modern horror flicks. This is one I plan to enjoy again sometime. Very much recommended.

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