Perdita Weeks plays Scarlett, a daredevil explorer who is willing to put her life on the line to follow her dreams on one day discovering the whereabouts of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. Following in his father’s footsteps, she is approached by a documentary maker Benji (Edwin Hodge) to accompany her on her pursuit, which leads her to Paris, as she believes the answers to all of her questions lie beneath the streets in the catacombs – a mass grave and now popular attraction for tourists. However, and alongside her somewhat reluctant friend George (Ben Feldman) and a group of locals who know all the secret entrances, they embark on an adventure that takes them to some extremely dark places.
There’s an enjoyable sense of valiance, as watch on as our protagonists venture through the underground city of the dead, almost becoming like a video game in how they need to complete cryptic puzzles to get from stage to stage, needing to get to the next level (think The Crystal Maze, but with added blood). Benji has the main camera and so he becomes our entry point in a sense, which is imperative, as we see events almost unravel from his perspective. Given he’s completely unaware of this entire world and knows so little about it, he becomes easy to identify with, which helps when immersing ourselves in the tale. Found footage can often be such a distraction too as you persistently question why characters would be using their camera in certain, perilous situations – but this is let off the hook to some extent, as they’re making a documentary, ratifying the decision somewhat.
Benji is also involved in the most suspenseful scene in the film, when he gets stuck climbing through a tight space. The sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming and incredibly well-judged in this instance, making for a sequence that is unbearable to watch. The setting is such an important aspect to this picture, not only for triggering such intensity given it’s beneath the ground, but because it’s a place that is genuinely steeped in rich history and haunting tradition. It’s a scary enough place to visit as a tourist, so to make a movie there is setting yourself up for something truly exceptional. Sadly, however, that’s not a word you would use to describe this particular piece of cinema.
However it’s the film’s conclusion which is ultimately the greatest shortcoming of all. As with so many horror movies, the setup is entrancing and it’s the payoff which is hugely anticlimactic. As Above, So Below revels when tying this fantastical tale to the real world, so once the supernaturalism takes precedence, this picture heads steadily downhill. Sadly, and much like our protagonists, getting back above ground becomes nigh on impossible.