As Above So Below Recommended Unpacked Discussed
As Above, So Below is a thriller that simultaneously dives into the French Catacombs, while simultaneously plumbs the consciousness of these characters. It's a stunning thriller that totally caught me off guard.
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I’ve always wanted to pick up a Super8 Camera and grab a couple friends in order to sneak into the nearest abandoned building…so I can film my latest time traveling ideas. So, when I found out that John Erick Dowdle not only grabbed some friends, a camera, and also dropped into the Parisian Catacombs in order to explore cinematic ideas, I was quite literally gobsmacked at the idea. I wasn’t sure how I missed this film five years ago, but I knew I had to jump in and find out what I was missing. So here’s to you Tyler Depp for tipping me off that this movie was out there. You are a god among men. Alright, here we go, As Above So Below Recommended Unpacked Discussed…

I only came to enjoy proper horror movies later in my life. Well, sort of. I know some of you don’t think I’ve ever even seen a proper horror movie yet. But that is another discussion all together. When I started realizing that horror movies are (usually) just fronts for discussing psychological trauma, and internal horrors, I started to take a second look. Movies like The Ritual, they made me realize that there is a lot more going on in this genre than blood gags, and jump scares. And that is what we have here today. A movie about past trauma, and psychic debt. Heck, social debt, and the desperate hunt for salvation in the face of moral bankruptcy. But I’m giving the game away. If you haven’t seen the film yet, trust me on this one, this is a fun flick.

As Above So Below Recommended Unpacked Discussed - is it about loss? Is it about man's inhumanity to man? Or is it about psychic guilt?

As Above So Below Recommended Unpacked Discussed

Actually, the movie starts out all kinds of Indiana Jones surprisingly. Scarlett Marlowe (played by Perdita Weeks), a young archeologist and student of alchemy is attempting to carry on her father’s alchemical work. Unwittingly, she’s following in the mad steps of Sir Isaac Newton and his search for the Philosopher’s Stone, the ability to convert lead into gold, (if you’ve read Neal Stephenson’ Baroque Cycle, or studied Sir Isaac Newton at all) and the search for the elixir of life. Or, as this work of story conflates, the real discoverer of immortality, was Nicolas Flamel (of which there is no actual historical truth to, but why should we let truth get in the way of a great story?). Well, after an exciting opening in Iran, Scarlett has discovered the fabled “Rose Key.” Barely escaping the cave, and Iran, with her life, she heads to Paris. There she enlists the help of George (Ben Feldman), with whom she has a past. Apparently, they have attempted other crazy feats together, and they haven’t gone so well. And with Benji’s (Edwin Hodge) help she’ll have a translator and cameraman. While this isn’t a found footage film, it has all the wear and tear of the documentary style going for it. (If you are into that sort of a thing.)

The trio are able to translate Flamel’s headstone (which he actually did, in real life, design himself) which has a riddle contained within it, that takes them out to the Parisian Catacombs…370 feet below the city’s streets. Before they go, they find Papillon, and his girlfriend Souxie (nod to Siouxsie and the Banshees anyone?? Come on! Currently listening to her Rhapsody as I write. It seems to fit this movie almost perfectly.) who are expert guides of the Catacombs.

As the group heads further and further into the tunnels of the Catacombs, they see a group of possessed worshipers in one alcove of the chambers. And further on they come to a blocked shaft. Eventually after circling and circling, they convince Papillon to take them down a chamber where a number of people perished, including a close friend of Papillon’s, La Taupe (The Mole). Well, blimey, after heading down that chamber a little ways, they come to La Taupe who lets them know that the only way out is to continue going down. Later they discover a preserved Knights Templar, a pile of treasure, and Flamel’s Philosopher Stone. Scarlett though, didn’t realize that the Philosopher Stone was a trap, and her taking it caused the tunnel to collapse. La Taupe is lost in the cave in, and is abandoned by the group. But thankfully, Scarlett uses the stone to heal the wounds of the group that were incurred by the cave in.

As they continue on, they find a Gnostic star of David – which apparently, symbolizes, “As above, so below.” And they use that as a clue to discover a portal hidden in the floor. As they enter the doorway, there is the phrase “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” That comes from Dante’s Inferno. Can I also mention, I adore how that enormous poetic work starts: “I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” If we are being honest with each other, should be the subtitle of this film.

Now…passing through the portal (I’m using the world portal pretty intentionally here), they find an identical, but backwards room. Where have they gone? La Taupe is also there, and he attacks the group, and ends up killing our Souxie. As the group continues progresses deeper Benji is pushed to his death by the cultists we saw at the beginning. They come to a burning car, which is from a story of Papillon’s past. There, an occupant of the car grabs Papillon and pulls him into the ground, where the group is not able to save him. Continuing on, they see demons, spirits, gargoyles that come to life. One of the statues that has come to life attempts to drag George off. And as it does, George says “vitriol,” and Scarlett recognizes it as another part of Flamel’s headstone riddle. She now knows that she needs to return the stone. So she hauls it back through the chaos they have just come through, in order to put the stone back.

Scarlett realizes that the man who hanged himself earlier is her father. And after almost being drowned in a pool of blood, by some invisible force, she discovers a polished mirror. And there she comes to the conclusion that she herself is the stone. She returns to George, kisses him, and heals him of his wounds. It is then that she fully understands that they all must confront their torments, confront their pasts. It is this realization that allows them to ultimately escape, right-side up, back onto the Parisian streets.

As Above So Below Recommended Unpacked Discussed - is it about loss? Is it about man's inhumanity to man? Or is it about psychic guilt?

But What To Make Of It?

Why don’t we walk through several different possible theories that could possibly explain what is going on in the movie As Above, So Below.

Theory #1 – It’s 100% Real – The movie just is what it is. A couple of people think that spelunking into the Parisian Catacombs was a good idea, and they got what was coming to them. Look, it’s a horror movie. There is nothing to be made of it. Guys like you work too hard to come up with lame “academic” sounding reasons for reading into things that shouldn’t be read into.

Theory #2 – Man’s Inhumanity to Man – This is just a movie about evil that man is capable of committing against other humans. Look at the piles and piles of bones that are stacked throughout the Catacombs man! It’s about horrors of our generations’ pasts and how we should work harder to quit being so mean to our fellow human beings. Or something. (I truly do have a hard time coming up with plausible incorrect answers. hahaha.)

Theory #3 – It’s About Catharsis – As Above, So Below is all about loss, and the desperate need to let their losses go. Each of these people have had significant people die, or disappear from their lives tragically. And the events that happen there in the Catacombs (basically graves you can visit) symbolize the deaths of friends, brothers, fathers, family members, etc. And it’s all about how they have to let them go. To receive the catharsis from releasing them.

As Above So Below Recommended Unpacked Discussed - is it about loss? Is it about man's inhumanity to man? Or is it about psychic guilt?

Theory #4 – Dealing With Their Demons – Or maybe, movies like this one come from a class of psychological trauma that follows the Event Horizon pattern. Yes, the evil may appear to be from the outside, or below. But it is actually coming from within. Look at the pattern of strange things that happened to the group. A piano from George’s past, with the exact same missing A4 key. Scarlett’s hanged father. The car where Papillon’s brother was killed. Etc., etc. These are all evils from their collective pasts.

The group has stepped across a barrier into the supernatural. But it isn’t a spiritual realm of ghosts. I mean, real ghosts. The undead. Rather, it’s a spiritual realm of personal ghosts. This is a movie that is totally about their own moral failings. Sins of omission, sins of commission. It’s a story about the tragedies in their lives, and their mistakes. It is a story that investigates their guilt of past losses, past failures, and past desires.

I mean, look at the above image. This is the moment that Scarlett realizes what is happening, and finally turns the corner. She’s looking into a mirror, seeing her blood covered face. HER BLOOD COVERED FACE. hahah. I mean, it’s impossible to spell it out more clearly. The story is about her own guilt, and culpability in the evil that is consuming them. Where the movie goes a little off the rails for me is that the answer is “within Scarlett.” Like, she needs to forgive herself? She just needs to think positive thoughts? And from the mirror onward to the ending, the film definitely got ultra trite. (Not just trite, ultra trite.) But I really enjoyed the movie right up until this point. The diagnosis of the chaos was spot on and 100% on target.

Final Thoughts on As Above, So Below

The title of the movie hints at the solution of what this film is all about. It really can’t be any more clear. The things that happen in the real world, they have impacts on our psychological well being. Our sins, the things we should do, but don’t, the things we actively do, but shouldn’t, all leak into our souls. The Catacombs are just one big, massive winding corridor of soul-metaphors. Trauma found in these “Catacombs” are actually internal terrors and horrors that plague our lives mentally. And if you aren’t aware enough to understand this truth, I would literally be happy to find you a decent counselor in your area for you…because you desperately need one. Trust me on this. You do.

Life is a buzz-saw. Even the most affluent among us (maybe even more so) are riddled with trauma, chaos, and shrapnel, from the daily routine of our lives. And this movie is just illustrating this buzz-saw in a real and tangible way. Maybe we should create a support group below in the comments, and discuss our own personal traumas, in the hopes of actually, and finally, becoming free of them?? hahahah. Counseling has begun!

Edited by: CY

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10 Responses

  1. deKev

    Watched this when it first came out, and honestly don’t remember much of anything other than it being a shaky-cam, claustrophobic movie. So yeah, thanks for the THiNC alert, will check it out again soon!

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Lisa – I have a soft spot for guys that just pick up a camera and go for it. Is it Inception? Or Nolan? No. But lots of movies I love have these same sorts of problems. For example, Monos. The back quarter of that film sort of fell apart due to editorial leaps, and mismatches. But, I give grace to films that don’t know any better and are just going for it. Same for movies with crappy acting but big ideas. They get a pass.

      This movie had a laughable “female Indiana Jones” thing going?? Really? Hahaha. And that was a foundational idea for the movie. I’m OK with your not digging the movie. Perdita Weeks was fantastic. (The rest of the cast was meh.) And I just adored the idea of these humans crafting a film out of the Parisian Catacombs. Sure, it got bumpy towards the end. But I thought it worked. I just had a lot of fun with it.

      Should I knock a star off of it? Two? Probably. But I’m not going to because I just love the guts of this crew basically guerilla’ing this movie into existence.

      @Dekev – love to hear what you think of it second time around. I’ve watched it twice since discovering it. But that’ll probably be it for me. But I’m glad I was introduced to it.

      Reply
  2. Lisa

    So, I’m having trouble with this film being rated a 4. I thought it was terrible and filled with plot holes that could have been plot craters. Why did the weird singing chicks just randomly appear throughout the film? Never explained. Only some of the folks in the film faced their guilt before they died while others just died in some arbitrary way. It was all over the place. It was no Monos! Even the Bigfoot movie was way better than this one.

    Reply
  3. Henry

    I watched this movie years ago and decided to give it a re-watch to refresh my memory. And the first thing I recalled was this: Why does that poem rhyme when translated to English? So yeah, plot holes… or just bad writing?

    I likely watched this because it was on some horror movie list. Or maybe it was recommended by some algorithm because I liked the Descent. Who knows? But I’m sure I watched because I’ll try just about anything.

    Agree with Lisa that the 4s are too high for what this is. I recalled the pay-off being a little better, and maybe on a first viewing that’s what caries the movie. However, it’s also good enough for what it is.

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    I thought about the poem rhyming as well. There were so many things wrong with this movie and I felt the script was just bad. Adding the low budget on top of that and I just can’t find a way to redeem it. I only watched it because it was listed on here but if not, I probably would have found it on my own eventually.

    Reply
  5. Lisa

    Taylor, the idea of a film about the catacombs is wonderful but this film wound up trying way too hard to do something deep (like the levels going down and down, as above so below and all that) and I just felt it failed miserably. Perhaps they should have kept it a bit simpler. I also want to know what deKev thinks as we are usually on the same page with our likes and dislikes on here. Monos was so strong for me emotionally, I didn’t even notice any plot holes or anything falling apart which is how a movie succeeds for me. I spent a lot of time in a Paris when I was younger and now I’m just jealous I never got to see the catacombs!

    Reply
  6. deKev

    First off, just let me say that the movie is just about passable for me, even after a second viewing. What I like best about the movie is the Robert Langdon and Indy Jones stuff, maybe a bit more on the cerebral Langdon than the all-action Indy. I just wish there were more code deciphering a la The Da Vinci Code though, because technological ingenuity of the ancients have always fascinated me. Ptolemaic hinge, anyone? What I hate most, OTOH, has got to be all the in-your-face supernatural stuff, such as Lisa’s ‘weird singing chicks’, the stone monks that came alive, the black robed dude sitting on a chair, and so on… just way too many of these. Although the subtler bits, like the place where all sounds are weirdly muted, or right at the end where up is down and down is up, are pretty innovative and again I wish more of these could have featured instead.

    As for the poem that shouldn’t have rhymed in English, I failed to register that at all the first time around, and almost missed it at the second time of asking too, ha! Anyway, at a stretch, might it be possible that the translator is taking some artistic license with his interpretation of the ancient Aramaic text? It’s possible the poem might not even have rhymed in its original Aramaic form, who knows? I believe most classical poems written in ancient Greek or Latin, like the Iliad, did not even rhyme in their native language. I think the ancients were more concerned with rhythm or meter, neither of which I have half a clue with, so there’s just no way for me to tell if the instantly translated poem from the movie has these things in place too. Well now, if someone can instantly translate Aramaic text into an English poem complete with rhyme, rhythm and metre, he’s either a genius, or more likely we be the idiots taken for a ride by the filmmakers. While a rhyming poem may sound good, it comes at the expense of suspension of disbelief, so yeah, I’ll chalk this up as a plot hole too. Well spotted! Henry.

    Finally, if I may just add some personal observations regarding the shaky cam or found footage style employed by the movie. While a shaky cam point of view provides that added bit of immersion for the viewers, which is always welcome, it also introduces a limitation, and that is … reality (as opposed to illusion) is to be suggested at all times by what the cameras may capture. It’s fair to say audiences have long been taught that cameras as depicted in a movie do not lie, especially those hand held by actors in a movie, however paradoxical that might sound. So I think I am right to suggest that what the camera sees, i.e. the viewers’ POV, has got to be 100% real and not just hallucinatory, yes?

    And yet with this movie, the viewer is never sure if they are seeing a mere hallucination, as with George’s little brother, or 100% real, as with the old style telephone. It all seems rather arbitrary. Just because the viewers’ POV is from George’s headcam does not make it acceptable that he (which translates to the viewers too) is seeing a personal hallucination. Imagine a scenario where the CCTV in a Paranormal Activity movie captures a ghostly image sauntering across the hall, only for it to turn out to be a hallucinatory sequence on the part of a character!!? It just does not work that way, right?

    Reply
  7. Lisa

    Agreed. Had they done this right, it would have been a fantastic concept. I also enjoyed the ending where they came out upside down and felt this was at least one thing the film got right. We are on the same page regarding the paranormal activity and I felt like this film was trying to be too many different things at once. I think this kind of thing is easier to forgive in a movie like Indiana Jones which essentially was the first of its kind and there was nothing to compare it to from before. But these days when everything has been done tenfold, you need to stand out from the pack. In this film the concept and even the scenery is right but the execution just kind of fails for me.

    Reply
  8. d

    You’ve gotta be one of the VERY few people that actually liked this movie. This review just further enforces the ridiculous scoring of this site. I wouldn’t be surprised if you gave area 407 a 4 at this point

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      I’m fine with you not digging it. That works for me. And yeah, I’m not a review site. I add review scores to my write ups just so people have context about what I liked/didn’t like about the film. I’d prefer to not give ratings because I do give indie filmmakers a break. If you go out there, with $10k and make a film, I’m not going to rate you as hardcore as I would Christopher Nolan and his next film. So yeah – like I said, I am LITERALLY not trying to be a review website. If I’m bringing something to you, I pretty much liked it. I want to find films that are decent, and on top of that, encourage small movie creators. That is my goal here.

      Reply

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