So rarely does found footage go the “movie for smart people” route. And yet here we have As Above, So Below, a found footage film that shows all the hallmarks of complex thought. It’s set in a real-life spookfest; somewhere a little more niche than Area 51 or “generic European city full of exorcists”- the Catacombs of Paris. Which, if you’re not familiar with them, are mass graves hidden under the City of Love, said to contain nearly six million sets of human remains.
Then, you’ve got the title, As Above, So Below, a phrase tossed around in the occult world on a regular basis, and also a phrase that comes from the ancient, Christian-ish religion of Hermeticism. On top of that, As Above, So Below eschews the Big Two of found footage nemeses- your choice of mutants or demonic possession- for something new and, dare I say it, interesting: the actual Gates of Hell.
So we know that the pair of John Erick Dowdle (co-writer/director) and Drew Dowdle (co-writer) have done their scary movie research. But does the trailer do justice to all the smartness I assume will be in this extremely smart-sounding movie?
The short answer is: not really.
The trailer starts out with the usual found footage boilerplate- a camera crew documenting some new and unknown phenomenon, a sudden mishap that leaves them stranded somewhere extremely cramped and dark, and traditional utterance of “We can’t go back. We should just keep moving,” as an excuse plunge our cast further into lush jump scare territory.
But all that is worth it when our heroes finally crawl through a small tunnel and through the Gates of Hell. Only to find… a statue that comes to life and shakes the camera super fast. The “whump” you just heard was my expectations hitting the floor hard enough to leave a dent.
And that sets the tone for the last minute or so of As Above, So Below’s trailer, which becomes a Greatest Hits of every idea the found footage genre has already worn to the bone. Children’s laughter in scary darkness. People lunging at the camera so fast it’s hard to tell if their scary movie makeup is anything more than a splotch of red paint. And, of course, a hapless victim pulled out of sight by a blast of questionable CGI.
So what have we learned? It’ll take more than a neat premise to make something interesting out of the found footage genre. And that Ben Feldman, as Mad Men’s Michael Ginsberg and As Above, So Below’s “man beset upon by Hell-things,” should stick to 1960s snark and bushy mustaches.
As Above, So Below releases August 15, 2014.