When evidence of a long-lost artefact comes to her attention, Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) persuades an old friend and a group of local guides to accompany her and a documentary film-maker down to the French Catacombs. They are seeking out a lost passageway that is said to lead to riches and history lost for hundreds of years. The same quest drove her late father insane but Scarlett is determined to legitimise his life’s work. But soon the group get lost in the maze of underground tunnels and as their situation worsens, they are forced to descend even further. They start to experience horrific visions from each of their pasts and it becomes clear that they are all being led somewhere – by something primeval and deadly.
The found-footage trope might feel a little over-familiar these days but As Above, So Below manages to use it very effectively. Perhaps the best use of the format since the first Paranormal Activity, the film creates a dark, tense and very scary environment that frequently jolts you. It’s a chillingly atmospheric horror story full of terrifying suspense and creepiness. Throw in a nice Indiana Jones-style archaeological side-story and you have a film that leaves a lasting impression.
The cast are all great – Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman make for very engaging leads so it’s easy to champion their cause. Edwin Hodge is good as Benji , the reluctant cameraman. The French catacombs team led by Papillon, played by François Civil, and his friends (Ali Marhyar and Marion Lambert) manage to provide great support without succumbing to the usual clichés associated with these types of roles. They all share a great dynamic and bounce off one another, especially when things start to get really bad in the catacombs. When Benji gets stuck climbing through a tight gap surrounded by human bones, you start to hyperventilate with him.
The films success lies in its ability to make you feel completely vulnerable and desperate. We’ve seen this used to good effect in the past with films like The Descent. As Above, So Below follows suit with dense and stifling environments that really transport you into the depths of this hellish nightmare. The darkness plays tricks on you and when you least expect it, things start to appear. Perhaps most effective are remnants of the groups past that are scattered deep within the tunnels. A burning car for instance really creates a haunting vision deep underground. It all adds to the spookiness with their appearances alone freaking you out.
There are only a few sticking points but they don’t derail the momentum of the film too much. There’s a ghostly looking woman who frequently pops up in the background but they’ve given her far too much make-up and she just looks like a lost Goth at a nightclub. The hooded creature deep in the caverns is also terrifying until we catch a glimpse of his face – again the make-up department going mad with white paint and eye-liner. It would have been a lot better to go less-is-more with these scenes as it makes it much creepier.
As Above, So Below is a very competent frightener that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It’s claustrophobic horror at its finest with a real emphasis on tension build up and slow-burn terror. Full of haunting visuals, a terrifying soundtrack and some genuinely unsettling vibes, As Above, So Below provides plenty of scares and thrills and shouldn’t be missed. But don’t see this if you have a fear of confined spaces as it will put you over the edge.