Movie Review: As Above, So Below should've stayed buried

Not even the real-life backdrop of Paris' famed catacombs can inspire interest in this non-horrific exercise.

It isn't particularly scary. Or gory. Or satisfyingly creepy. And the idea it offers — that our external realities reflect what we feel inside — is as thinly sketched and dully realized as the script for a theme park ride. Which makes As Above, So Below a kind of wet-noodle horror movie for people who aren't sure they're ready to commit to the scares of Halloween Horror Nights. (The film also happens to be released by Universal).

The dismal ride gets underway with our introduction to Scarlet Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), a young British professor of urban archaeology who tells us of her quest to finish her father's life work and find the legendary Philosopher's Stone. When we first meet her, Scarlet addresses the camera directly, because the entire movie is shown through the handheld devices of its characters. It's a tired, useless gimmick that hinders the ability to create tension, something this movie has in very limited supply. It also may cause you to wonder why, even when filming a relatively static image, the person holding the camera can't stop swaying his arm back and forth. This doesn't emphasize the authenticity of found footage; it merely induces nausea.

Scarlet's quest leads her and a handful of her fellow 20-somethings to the catacombs below Paris, where she hopes to find her magic rock. So down they go, into the dark, narrow and dusty tunnels, amidst piles and piles of bones and a gallery of gaunt, bug-eyed weirdos who occasionally occupy the background of a frame. Sometimes an object from someone's dark past will appear, but there's little development of dread or moral torment. Director John Erick Dowdle kills off his undeveloped characters without eliciting so much as pity, much less terror, from us.

As they forge ahead, the group often finds itself going around in circles, an apt description of the movie itself, which doesn't give its characters anything more interesting to do than say, "we've got to keep moving" after another member is killed, or argue about which way to go. It sends them further and further beneath the earth, and when the film abruptly ends, you sense it's because the filmmakers got bored with the whole exercise.

2 out of 5 stars
Rated R. Directed by John Erick Dowdle. Starring Pedita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge. Now playing.

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