As Above, So Below got 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is at once accurate and grossly unfair. As Above. . . combines, rather ingeniously, an Indiana Jones-like archaeological adventure with found-footage horror. It will not answer all your questions, and there’s no punchline or twist. It’s weird from its brilliant beginning in Iran through its descent into the Parisian catacombs, to its denouement in—well, it’s hard to say—and it’s the kind of weird that audiences and critics don’t like.
Directed by John Erick Dowdle, the film follows Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), an urban archaeologist searching the catacombs below Paris for the Philosopher’s Stone, which alchemists believed could transmute lead into gold. Accompanied by cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge), Aramaic specialist George (Ben Feldman), and a ragtag gang of hipster cataphiles (Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, and Ali Mahryar as Papillon, Souxie, and Zed, respectively), Scarlett takes a journey into a nightmarish and hallucinatory world in which inner regrets become very outward demons.
Click on pretty much anything I’ve written here at Ravenous Monster and you’ll notice that I’m obsessed with two things: weirdness and archaeology. As Above, So Below delivers both in spades. Moreover, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in Paris, where we fell in love with the bone-choked catacombs depicted in the film. Throw in an evening of moderate drinking, and As Above, So Below is basically what I want from a movie. So why should you see it, Savage Readers?
As Above. . . is one of those rare films that functions largely on suggestion and atmosphere, and that’s a rare thing in today’s wham-bam-I’m-going-to-skin-you-ma’am horror genre. Movies like this (think Pi) ask a lot of viewers, which is one reason I suspect they don’t come along very often.
You also need a cast up to the sizable acting job of saying something without explicitly saying it. As Above, So Below is buoyed by some formidable performances. Francois Civil’s Papillon infuses his hints about the catacombs with an almost Lovecraftian foreboding, and Perdita Weeks takes what could have been a very Lara Croft-like role and makes it believable. But the show-stealer is Edwin Hodge, in a scene in which the claustrophobic Benji thinks he’s gotten stuck in a narrow tunnel and can’t escape. The amount of sheer terror Hodge manages to convey makes for an absolutely harrowing sequence that seems to stretch on for five or ten minutes, though if it ran as long as two I’d be surprised.
As Above, So Below isn’t a perfect film. Ben Feldman is lukewarm as George, who seems more inconvenienced than frightened. There are also some segments that feel just a bit too over-the-top–Francois Civil in particular deserves better than the final scene Dowdle gives him. And if you like your horror Pint (of blood) A to Pint B, you’ll probably be less than excited by Dowdle’s long, dark crawls through soaking tunnels. See it anyway.
In fact, see it before it leaves theaters. Take as many horror buffs as you know, put asses in seats and forswear piracy, because even if you’re more into Cannibal Holocaust than Pi, the only way we’re going to housebreak Hollywood into not soiling our beloved genre with unnecessary remakes is by supporting directors like Dowdle who make films like As Above, So Below. Besides—it’s scary as fuck.
 We played Hamlet with a stray skull. While we were careful, and replaced it exactly where we found it, it was wrong. The only excuse I can offer is that we were two literary geeks, madly in love, in the most romantic city on earth.