'As Above/So Below' review: Bury it deep underground

Still from As Above/So Below. (Courtesy)

Still from As Above/So Below. (Courtesy)

Rating

1.5 Stars1.5/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 PM ET

The worst thing a horror movie can do is bore its audiences. As Above/So Below does that and more. It also induces pounding headaches with its grotesque overuse of herky-jerky, hand-held camerawork.

I am all for extolling the virtues of The Blair Witch Project, the ‘found footage’ horror movie from 1999. That low-budget, indie shocker revolutionized the horror genre. But it also unleashed a tidal wave of copy-cat movies by filmmakers who mistake the eye-straining chaos of hand-held with edgy filmmaking, with unsettling storytelling, with the creation of horror tension.

Real horror, the effective ones, work because of the stories they tell, not because they can make audiences feel they have been thrown into the Bog of Eternal Stench in Labyrinth. But that is the feeling you get in As Above/So Below.

The movie was co-written and directed by American filmmaker John Erick Dowdle, who did the sci-fi horror movie Quarantine in 2008 and went on to Devil in 2010, with people trapped in an elevator with Satan. The latter flick was co-written by M. Night Shyamalan, who has more than a passing interest in the spiritual world.

Obviously, so does Dowdle, who co-wrote the new movie with his brother Drew Dowdle. As Above, So Below is a reckless plunge into the Satanic world found at the Gates of Hell. We get there with a group of treasure-seekers who go off the beaten tourist paths inside the famous Catacombs of Paris. As our intrepid group of French, American and Welsh youths explore these ossuaries — with the bones of six million people scattered through former stone mines and kilometres of tunnels — they also encounter the denizens of the Underworld.

The movie is steeped in ancient myth, legend, religion and random fragments of actual historical fact. Meanwhile, invoking a religious passage, our rag-tag group discovers that the things that haunt them above — in the real world — will terrify them below — once they crawl over the bones of the dead into the Hellmouth.

Personally, I prefer engaging the Hellmouth through Joss Whedon’s landmark TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy remains a lot more interesting than Perdita Weeks’ obsessive character Scarlett in As Above, So Below. Continuing in the path of her dead-by-suicide father, Scarlett is searching for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, which she has come to believe is hidden in a secret tomb inside the catacombs.

Scarlett is insufferably crazy and selfish. That is true even if Weeks is a break-out actress with real charisma and a physical dynamic that makes it believable she would go splunking inside the catacombs. But Scarlett is also a dangerous pain-in-the-butt for others on the expedition, many of whom will not survive the ordeal. After all, this is a horror movie!

The cast includes Ben Feldman, Francois Civil, Edwin Hodge, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar and the made-for-horror actor Cosme Castro as the phantom La Taupe. There are also a bunch of extras playing demons, ghosts and things that go bump in the night when you find yourself hundreds of metres below the streets of Paris.

But all this goes for next-to-naught: As Above/So Below is just mediocre horror.

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