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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » As Above, So Below (Blu-ray)
As Above, So Below (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // December 2, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted December 15, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

The subterranean tunnels and crypts holding the remains of six million Parisians - known as the Catacombs of Paris - are a perfect setting for an imperfect horror film. As Above, So Below sends its young cast deep beneath the busy city streets in search of the Philosopher's Stone thought capable of turning base metals into gold and providing the elixir of life. Early scenes are quite effective, unbearably claustrophobic and filled with chilling imagery, but John Erick Dowdle's (Quarantine, Devil) film goes to hell in more ways than one when the group hits a gateway straight out of Dante's "Inferno." The third act is so chaotic, nonsensical and poorly edited that I have a hard time recommending this film. Fortunately, there is Redbox.

Alchemy scholar Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is consumed with finding the Philosopher's Stone and struggles to escape the shadow of her father, who killed himself during his own search for the stone. She finds in Iran evidence pointing toward Paris, and reconnects with ex-boyfriend George (Ben Feldman), who she abandoned in Turkey to avoid arrest. Through a little scholarly investigating, Scarlett and George stumble upon guide Papillon (Francois Civil), who agrees to accompany them into the Catacombs in search of a mysterious hidden room. Things do not go well.

Viewers with an aversion to handheld footage need not apply, as the entire film sports chaotic, found-footage duds. Even so, Dowdle and company do a nice job immersing viewers in the Catacombs, and reveal a surprising amount of eerie set decoration. The explorers crawl over bones and rats, rappel down pitch-black holes and ignore all signs of danger in the typical, blissful fashion of horror film ignorance. "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" adorns a threshold that they must cross, and each receives an individualized torment reminiscent of Dante's poetic allegory. What they encounter in the tunnels is largely kept in shadow, but there are plenty of unexpected outliers caught in the beams of headlamps.

The film does a good job building to its tipping point, but quickly spoils both the mood and suspense with a frenetic, headache-inducing final act. Dowdle largely avoids tired jump stingers and instead relies on creeping dread and a fear of the unknown to sell his scares. This evaporates at the climax, when the film's otherworldly puppet-masters take physical form and the remaining characters begin running around and screaming, leaving the viewer to turn away from the nauseating camera work. The film teases some really cool ideas about sin and redemption, but the follow-through is terrible.

I have previously struggled to forgive a film's disappointing climax or ending and focus on the positives that came before (ahem The Village), so I won't completely write off As Above, So Below. The build-up is largely effective in the creepy setting, the acting is not bad for this type of film, and there are a couple of chilly scares early on. Perhaps the limited $5-million budget or the script, from director Dowdle and younger brother Drew Dowdle, is to blame for the rushed resolution. Dowdle's resume proves his ability to work with found footage and in tight settings, and at least he is doing something other than churning out generic slashers. The pieces of a good horror movie are laid on the table here, but they never quite come together to form a satisfying whole.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is not the most attractive HD presentation out there, but it certainly reflects the film's intended look. The handheld footage is expectedly blurry during quick pans, and black levels are often crushing in the tunnels. Even so, shadow detail is there when the filmmakers want it to be, and fine-object detail is often quite strong. Skin tones are accurate, colors are nicely saturated and I noticed no major instances of jagged edges or digital noise.

SOUND:

The film's sound design is very effective, as is the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Voices and subterranean ambient effects echo through the sound field, and directional action effects are frequent and chilling. There is no distortion to report, and the mix nicely balances all elements of the terror. Viewers looking for creepy, over-the-shoulder noises and sound pans will enjoy this track. French, German, Spanish and Italian 5.1 DTS tracks are included. You also get a 2.0 English descriptive track and English SDH, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Arabic and Icelandic subs.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and codes for iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs come in a standard case, which is wrapped in a cool textured and embossed slipcover with the film's eye-catching poster artwork. The only extra is EPK featurette Inside As Above, So Below, which offers cast and crew interviews.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The premise and setting of John Erick Dowdle's latest thriller are strong, but As Above, So Below suffers greatly from a disappointing third act and finale. To its credit, the film is a lot more ambitious than most modern horror flicks, with an effective backstory for its lead character, and there are a couple of chilling moments. Because the landing is so rough, I can only recommend that you Rent It.


Additional screenshots:

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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