'As Above' makes you squirm 

Don't go down there.

"As Above, So Below" is a relentlessly stressful horror flick in the model of a classic haunted house B-movie, with a twist. A ragtag group of explorers, led by an obsessive young archaeologist named Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), is spelunking into the recesses of the catacombs beneath Paris, searching for a magical doodad. The further down they get, the more obvious it becomes that they're descending into hell itself. This begets predicament. Shot by cameras carried and worn by the players — they're making a documentary, so the found-footage gimmick so popular in schlocky, low-budget horror movies at least makes some sense here — "As Above, So Below" wedges you, the viewer, into ever-tighter, ever-freakier holes and crannies. Once the sympathetic claustrophobia kicks in, virtually anything that happens is scary as all get-out. It's a cheap thrill, yes, but a thrill all the same.

Director John Erick Dowdle and his brother, Drew Dowdle, also wrote the screenplay. They relied heavily on lines like "We just have to keep going," and slight variations. The trick is building a lead so monomaniacal that Scarlett will persevere even when, say, tunnels of bones collapse around them, or when everyone seems to be sharing grisly hallucinations. The others in the makeshift treasure-hunting party — a boyfriendy translator, a documentarian and three hired Parisian underworld Sherpas — ought to know better than to continue following. Yet this is a mousetrap of clever construction. This labyrinth filled with generations of French corpses keeps contorting and closing up behind our travelers. Offered the choice between quitting and continuing deeper into an escalating black maze of creepy awfulness, the only logical choice, as stupefying as it often seems, turns out to be the latter.

Dowdle does a serviceable job coaxing naturalistic performances out of his cast, all relative no-names whose acting credits include a lot of television, if that. The pace doesn't slack, even during stretches that could mostly be deemed "slow," if in fact six people weren't continuing to traipse further into an endless cave. Speed helps us move past the spotty logic. Why the hell did they just do that? Oh, who cares, because they're already onto something else. Even the mystical Christianity that propels much of the quasi-supernatural scares starts to make more sense as the movie trips further down the world's nastiest rabbit hole. Momentum alone can make up for a fair heaping of jibberish.

The tight confines and the hopelessness of burrowing further into shrinking caverns recalls another tight little horror movie of recent vintage, "The Descent." Unlike that spectacle, "As Above, So Below" doesn't belabor the physical torment of its characters; gore stays to a minimum, befitting such obvious influences as the Indiana Jones canon and "The Blair Witch Project." Dowdle knows that in the pitch dark, visuals are often less frightening than mere imagination, which he feeds amply with some of the best sound effects you'll come across in this genre. The sound of a ringing phone, eerie singing, the low rumble of earth and of — are those human voices? Perhaps livestock? — other faraway noises, thrumming up through the ground, adds to the sense of doom constricting our terrified explorers. Horror purists aren't likely to care much for the ending, but as they stagger back out into the light of day, they will feel a sense of relief that at least they're not lost 400 feet beneath Paris anymore.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

  • Dead dialogue

    'Sin City' 2 looks good, but its darkness grows dull.
    • Aug 28, 2014
  • Faking it

    'Let's Be Cops' arrives at a bad time, but offers accidental commentary.
    • Aug 21, 2014
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Not giving up on Fred

    We ended up adopting Fred due to his incorrigible stubbornness. Originally bred to track game, basset hounds can be amazingly persistent. It sometimes appears that when their noses are working, their hearing shuts down.
  • Prosecutors have all the power

    But little oversight. Is a violation not a violation if a prosecutor says, 'I didn't mean to'?
  • Private clubs win early closing battle

    Private clubs apparently have won their battle against earlier closing hours, based on a "compromise" revealed at the City Board meeting last night.
  • The Kochs, Tom Cotton and their dislike of helping farmers

    The Koch political lobby is trying mightily to pretend it supports American farmers and that Tom Cotton's vote against the farm bill isn't a measure of farm support. A new report from a Democratic organization blows that dishonest messaging out of the water.
  • A tree grows in Little Rock

    When Darla talks about the tree, she calls it "he" sometimes, blurring the seam between the tree and the memory of her son.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30  
 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation