It seems archeologists will never learn. At least movie archeologists. In every decade since the 1920s a cinematic excavators has unleashed all kinds of trouble in the present because they messed with the past. Sir Joseph Whemple gave us the Mummy’s Curse, Indiana Jones uncovered flaming Nazis and Lara Croft left us with two so-so movies.
In the new thriller “As Above/So Below” a group of young “urban” archeologists led by Krav Maga black belt Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) explore miles of unmapped catacombs under the streets of Paris, searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, a fabled artifact with the power to grant eternal life. A similar search for the relic drove Scarlett’s archeologist father barmy—“His quest was a quest to madness!” says a friend.”— but she is convinced that she, her ex-boyfriend George (“Mad Men” co-star Ben Feldman), a cameraman named Benji (“The Purge’s” Edwin Hodge) and a group of apparently expendable spelunking explorers (Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar) can play DaVinci Code and follow ancient symbols and clues deep underground and succeed where dear dad failed. Instead of eternal life, however, they discover quite the opposite. They end up having a helluva time—literally.
The idea of being in a location where your deepest fears and terrible memories manifest themselves is a good “Twilight Zone-ish” premise, but the found footage style is so wild it seems as though they strapped a camera on the back of an angry dog and let it run wild in the catacombs. My kingdom for a tripod!
As for scares, there are a couple of good “jump“ moments and claustrophobics may want to stay home but the creepy stuff—like the weird wall-eyed lady who wanders in and out of the action like some specter from a better movie—is not so much terrifying as it is jarring. Although on the plus side the jumps are a good break from the tedium of watching this bunch say, “We have to find a way out,” over and over.
The characters in “As Above/So Below” are forced to relive their own ideas of hell. Mine would be having to watch this movie again.