The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


As Above, So Below

It may be time to put the final nail in the coffin of “found footage” movies. The technique is one of the hardest things to pull off, yet so many filmmakers think it's easy. Invariably, most found footage movies end up with the camera shaking so wildly that you can't tell what you're looking at, while a character screams Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! loudly on the soundtrack. This is not scary; it's asinine. As Above, So Below is the latest picture to unnecessarily utilize the gimmick, proving once more that it has seen better days.

Perdita Weeks plays Scarlett, a young explorer seeking the sorcerer's stone, a legendary item that can allegedly turn lead into gold and also help achieve immortality. She believes it rests somewhere deep under the streets of Paris. Together with friend George (Ben Feldman), she puts together a crew, including a cameraman, to go down into the city's catacombs in an effort to find the hidden chamber where she's convinced it will be found. These intrepid souls get more than they bargained for, ending up in some kind of psychically weird place where their worst nightmares come to life. Is it Hell? Sure, why not? Watching this movie certainly is.

As Above, So Below makes a crucial, fatal mistake: it offers no character development whatsoever. We literally know nothing about these characters, except for perhaps one minor personal detail apiece. Scarlett's father hung himself, for instance, and George's brother drowned when they were kids. These factoids are called back once they're in the bowels of the catacombs, but because the characters are one-dimensional (and that's being generous), their nightmares are irrelevant. Nothing about what they encounter is shocking, or scary, or poignant. Instead of laying the groundwork that might have made the sight of them confronting past traumas unnerving, As Above, So Below takes the lazy way out, effectively negating its ability to be scary. This is a movie that fundamentally neuters itself.

The filmmakers' decision to use the found footage technique is puzzling. To the degree that it works – in pictures like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity - it's because the “captured on video” effect achieves a kind of immediacy. In other words, the primary benefit of found footage is to help sell the illusion that what you're watching really happened. As Above, So Below deals so heavily with fantasy material that the approach is completely and totally useless. Not only does it fail to add anything, it detracts at every single turn. A more conventional approach would have been far, far better for dealing with a concept as fantastical as the sorcerer's stone.

Not that it would have made much difference, mind you. Director John Erick Dowdle (Devil) and brother/co-writer Drew have put together a sloppy, dull, uninspired screenplay. Lackadaisical direction does it no favors. As Above, So Below gets nothing right. It can't even exploit a viewer's claustrophobia. How do you make a movie set in narrow catacombs and not even elicit a shiver on that count? It takes a special kind of incompetence.

There is nothing else to say. I was glad when the movie was over. As Above, So Below: As a film, so it blows.

( out of four)

As Above, So Below is rated R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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