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.
A new thriller, As Above/So Below, follows in a long tradition of Hollywood movies. Mad Men co-star Ben Feldman and Edwin Hodge play archaeologists who explore miles of unmapped catacombs under the streets of Paris and uncover a dark secret beneath the City of Lights.
According to Romancing the Stones: Archaeology in Popular Culture by Mark A. Hall, every decade since the 1920s has produced at least one film dealing with the eerie aspects of archaeology. “In the 1932 film The Mummy,” writes Hall, “the archaeologist Sir Joseph Whemple states: ‘much more is learned from studying bits of broken pottery than from all the sensational finds. Our job is to increase the sum of human knowledge of the past,’ but it is often as a foil for the supernatural elements to come.”
Harrison Ford played the screen’s most famous archaeologist, Indiana Jones. He is, as Major Eaton (William Hootkins) describes him, “a professor of archeology, expert on the occult, and how does one say it? Obtainer of rare antiquities.”
In each of the four movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, the Last Crusade and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a fabled object has great supernatural power. Whether it is the Ark of the Covenant, the Shiva Stones, the Holy Grail or an extraterrestrial crystal skull, Indy unleashes all kinds of trouble in the present because he messes with the past.
Angelina Jolie became a superstar playing Lara Croft, the athletic, aristocratic archaeologist and star of two movies, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Cradle of Life.
The character originated in a wildly popular video game series that saw her track down meteorite fragments that endowed humans with supernatural powers and magical stones. On film Jolie’s Croft said, “Everything lost is meant to be found,” as she stirred up trouble by uncovering ancient talismans and rescuing Pandora’s Box from an evil scientist.
The movie that established the link between archaeology and the paranormal was 1932s The Mummy. Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the controversy over his “curse” in 1922—rumours of a jinx began after Lord Carnarvon, the man who sponsored the dig of King Tut’s Tomb, died six weeks after the discovery—the film uses a Mummy’s spell as the catalyst for the action.
In the spooky movie Sir Joseph Whemple (David Manners) translates the hieroglyphics: “’Death… eternal punishment… for… anyone… who… opens… this… casket. In the name… of Amon-Ra… the king of the gods.’ Good heavens, what a terrible curse!”