Miles of twisting catacombs lie beneath the streets of Paris, the eternal home to countless souls. When a team of explorers ventures into the uncharted maze of bones, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead. A journey into madness and terror, As Above So Below reaches deep into the human psyche to reveal the personal demons that come back to haunt us all.
The turning point in the low-budget indie horror flick 'As Above, So Below' — which should be taken to suggest the moment when things finally get exciting and the movie can potentially be good — doesn't come until about three-quarters of the way through. This means audiences are expected and required to labor and squirm in their seats for at least a good hour of the brisk 93-minute runtime before getting their money's worth. That's not to imply the movie doesn't offer a few intensely creepy sequences building up towards that last half hour, the best and strongest portion of the whole production. Truth be told, the concept of being trapped in the Catacombs beneath Paris provides an eerily claustrophobic atmosphere and plenty of freakishly hair-raising moments. The problem comes with asking viewers to patiently tolerate a group of annoyingly unconvincing twentysomethings, each claiming to be experts in fields obviously beyond their knowledge.
At the start, the filmmakers take great pains to establish a believable situation and credible characters to the point of actually making the faux-documentary style all the more fake and preposterously implausible. Continuing in her father's footsteps, the young Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is illegally entering Iran to blindly search caves where a Rose Key, which is later explained as a kind of Rosetta Stone, is supposedly hidden from public knowledge. For nothing else than setting some minor bits of suspense, we're told the government plans to demolish the site, giving the mettlesome and exasperatingly zealous heroine a cause to fear the peril. But it's never explained for what purpose or how this information serves the overall plot. It also reveals the filmmakers possess limited, if any at all, understanding of Iranian culture or whether the current regime would be so artless or callously indifferent to ancient artifacts with significant value.
This narrow grasp and effort at creating any sense of realism in a subgenre — the still relatively new "found-footage" category — that insists on being the product of reality, usually the consequence of unfortunate events, continues, if not worsens, immediately after the collapse. With the brief intro out of the way, as in forced to believe Scarlett is some Indiana Jones/Lara Craft type of archeologist, viewers are then tasked with believing that in spite of having a few graduate degrees, being a scholar of alchemy and speaking several languages, the one language required to complete her hunt of the philosopher's stone is the one she apparently didn't have time to learn. She recruits the help of George (Ben Feldman), a close but bitter friend supposedly annoyed by non-functioning clocks, and hires an unlicensed guide Papillon (François Civil) and his two-person crew to uncover a hidden buried tomb belong the streets of Paris. Naturally, their skills only come in handy at the most convenient moments.
Amateur filmmaker Benji (Edwin Hodge), who spends a good deal of the time in perpetual fear, tags along purportedly because he's fascinated by Scarlett's quest. Of course, his sole purpose is to provide a grounds — and perhaps an apology — for documenting the frightful incident and spookiness of the French crypt, where the remains of six million people are reportedly preserved. As the group climbs deeper underground, the eerie atmosphere of the tombs grows, culminating into a twisted, sinister race of finding the nearest exit. Practical effects and a genuinely creepy sound design make up a majority of the fun and visuals during this last half hour, adhering to the classic adage of "less is more" and leaving a great deal to the imagination. It's nearly enough to justify everything that came before it, but only by a small margin. In the end, 'As Above, So Below' is standard "found-footage" fare collecting dust among the dead.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'As Above, So Below' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9, and both come inside a blue, eco-elite case with a textured, lightly-embossed slipcover. After a few skippable trailers, viewers are taken to a menu screen with the usual options, full-motion clips and music.
The low-budget horror flick debuts with a great-looking, highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Shot on inexpensive HD cameras, the video has that unattractive, sterilized soap-opera effect that's unappealing although the cinematography is specifically made to appear grimy and filthy. Nonetheless, fine object and textural details are clean and distinct, showing sharp, well-defined lines in the clothing, facial complexions and along the underground rocks. Colors appear somewhat limited due to the style of the photography, but the little seen offers bold, accurate primaries and cleanly-rendered earth tones. Contrast is intentional on the hot side, but not too much to ruin the overall quality, and black levels are not the strongest but deep and dark with pleasing shadow delineation.
For an indie found-footage story, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is top-notch, adding the scares and the frights far more effectively than the visuals and story. Although feeling like a front-heavy design, the surrounds are put to great use, delivering various discrete effects with excellent directionality and flawless panning. Even during quieter scenes, there remains a sense of vast empty space with subtle light echoes that ring throughout the room. Dynamic range is expansive with sharp, detailed highs, except for those intentional, intensely suspenseful moments where distortion adds to the fear, and very well-balanced channel separation. Vocals are precise and intelligible while low bass is responsive with plenty of weight and presence, making this lossless mix a good deal of creepy fun.
Despite offering an intriguing concept set beneath the streets of Paris, 'As Above, So Below' features a cast of unconvincing, exasperating characters, demanding a good deal of patience from the audience for a conclusion that's pretty satisfying and pays off decently well. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent picture quality and a slightly better audio presentation that generates a genuinely creepy atmosphere. With a disappointing set of supplements, the overall package is ultimately for the curious or those still interested in this subgenre.