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
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.
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.
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