Yet another entrant in the tired found-footage genre, As Above, So Below feels like a wasted opportunity. An interesting set-up and a strong central character are squandered by a disappointing descent into cliché territory.
Hoping to continue her late father’s quest to find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, archaeologist Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) follows a lead that takes her down into the Parisian catacombs. As Marlowe and her small documentary crew descend deeper beneath the streets of Paris, they realise that not all is as it seems.
Scarlett is an intriguing character, almost like a combination of Robert Langdon and Lara Croft. Perdita Weeks’ handling of her is excellent. There’s an infectious enthusiasm as well as a vulnerability to her that really draws you in. The other characters, while not being particularly interesting, are made stronger by their association with her.
It’s a shame that the film around them is determined to slip into familiar found-footage territory. By now it’s little more than an overused gimmick that serves no real purpose other than to drive production costs down.
Their journey underground is an obvious metaphor for descending into hell. The deeper they go, the stranger things get. Random occurrences abound but only a few feel necessary. Telephone conversations with dead relatives can sell a character’s mental instability, but what purpose does a half-naked, subterranean choral group serve? Some things are included purely for their creep factor.
Using handheld cameras to present a story can work, but the way they’re used here is unsettling. Personally, I found the frantic movements really disorientating and uncomfortable to watch. Also, the way the camera would suddenly stop to perfectly frame something important felt contrived and was a little difficult to swallow.
In the end it’s a reliance on an aging formula that spoils As Above, So Below. An interesting character and a carefully-laid foundation eventually crumble beneath the weight of worn-out genre tropes.