As Above, So Below is a lot of things, but a horror movie isn’t one of them. Although its protagonists crawl on their bellies through thousands of desiccated corpses and encounter the physical embodiment of their darkest fears in the deep, cavernous catacombs under Paris, that’s actually the worst part of an otherwise solid, entertaining adventure yarn in the vein of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. In fact, As Above, So Below is probably the best Tomb Raider movie we’re ever likely to get. Its British heroine just happens to have a different name, and it just happens to feature some creepy level designs.
Perdita Weeks plays the wonderfully named Scarlett Marlowe, an obsessive archaeologist whose quest to find The Philosopher’s Stone takes her on one dashingly fun adventure after another. As Above, So Below opens with Marlowe smuggling herself into Iran to rescue a valuable artifact just minutes before the corrupt government can crash a mountain down on top of her. Now THAT’S how you open a movie… or at least, that’s how you open a cheesy one.
And make no mistake, As Above, So Below is a cheesy b-movie through and through. Most of it takes place in a cave as its protagonists solve video game puzzles to unlock the next spooky room with a threat in it. The film is shot in the “found footage” aesthetic but most of the cameras are mounted on the cast’s headlamps, giving the film a first-person perspective that director John Erick Dowdle exploits for run-and-jump sequences through monster-laden corridors as our heroine races against time to rescue her comrades and prove her crazy theories correct. If a creepy clay golem happens to be in her way, screw it… Marlowe just smashes the sucker with a deft melee move.
Drew Dowdle’s efficient screenplay uses old school tropes to maximum effect, plowing through exposition as cleanly as possible and resorting to familiar character types to push the story forward to the next enjoyable set piece, treating the danger just seriously enough to make you care but the situation itself with just the right amount of disbelief to keep it fun. The game cast – particularly Weeks, clearly en route to superstardom – makes it work. You’ll probably fall prey to one or two of the jump scares, but As Above, So Below won’t unsettle your soul or make you sleep with the light on. The horror is just a backdrop to a pulp throwback filmed with skill and glee by filmmakers who are clearly having fun and know how to take you along with them.