The film is the most Blair Witch-y of the current found footage craze. Archeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), who specializes in the history of alchemy, is searching for The Philosopher's Stone, that ancient substance that could turn lead into gold and grant eternal life. Her search is being documented (giving us an actual reason for the constant filming). This takes her into the Paris catacombs along with her documentarian Benji, old friend/love interest George, and three spelunking punks, Papillon, Souxie and Zed, who will guide them through the catacombs. Their search for the hidden chamber of Nicholas Flemel (remember him from the first Harry Potter?) takes some wicked twists and turns and the creep factor escalates all the way to the end of the film.
In one particularly creepy moment, an old rotary phone begins ringing soon after the group enters a tunnel that one of the guides says they should not have entered. In the surround sound theater, the ringing bounced off the walls and had the additional eeriness of being old- fashioned.
All of our heroes are haunted by mistakes from the past, some dating back to childhood. At first these scare tactics feel out of place but are eventually explained.
The journey through the catacombs becomes circular and is a great use of a limited budget. Using the same locations with small tweaks give the film a sense of surreality and keeps the audience unsure of what will actually happen.
Written by brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle and directed by John Erick, the film gives viewers enough atmosphere and backstory to be able to fill in what remains unseen (just as a good film should do). They drop hints at horrors and reveal just enough to leave one with enough questions to make it interesting. The Dowdles previous efforts include 2008's Quarantine, the M. Night Shyalaman-produced Devil, and the underground and little-seen The Poughkeepsie Tapes. In other words, they know a thing or two about the found footage subgenre and tight spaces.
The cyclical nature of the film increases the sense in me that the found footage film has found its finale. As Above So Below is not a great film but it is good. It is good in a way that says "Hey, it's okay. We don't need to do this kind of movie again for a while. Let it be." Making the world around you reflect what is inside you is a central theme of the film. I think if we all take that internal desire for original horror films and show it by seeing those films taking a chance that we will get what we ask for.