by Lou Clement
Clues and arcane symbols, deciphered by those canny enough to figure it out, riddles and chemical alchemy revealing hidden messages. It sounds a bit like Indiana Jones or Harry Potter, but it’s actually one of the most entertaining films I saw last year and would have a prominent place amongst my favourite horror films.
The film draws on Dante’s Inferno for its inspiration. What does a film in the 21st century have to do with an Italian 14th century epic poem? Hell, nine layers of it, set in bowels of the city of romance, also the world’s biggest grave site with six million skeletons packed in its tunnels. Ex-residents now arrayed as walls of tibias and fibulas and monuments made of skulls, macabre – and parts of the catacombs have been accessible to the public for the last two centuries.
Setting a film here I’m sure had its challenges, for a film crew on a budget, but this doesn’t mean you miss the high end CGI effects or big stars. Instead you have some excellently scripted and designed characters that lend the story plausibility and engage an era of history fraught with mystery and, although often mined by books and their franchises, this felt like a fresh take.
The beautiful Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) leads the film as an explorer with tragedy behind her and a fierce intellect and fearless outlook, while her equally handsome counterpart is George (Ben Feldman), who we first meet in medieval bell tower, whilst he fixes a bell that hasn’t rung for centuries. That’s what he does, breaks into historic buildings and fixes their ancient equipment. There’s a nod to a level of eccentricity that you have to buy in to enjoy this film, I found it easy enough to suspend my rational 21st century brain and was firmly engrossed in the imagery and ideas the film endorsed. Whether you care enough to know who and what the Knight’s Templar were or Dante for that matter, is your prerogative, it will not however not prevent you enjoying the surprisingly violent and chilling underground scenes or the lines of verse that mirror the despair and fear of the characters.
The rest of the cast come together fast and seamlessly, with an excellent performance from Francois Civil as Papillon, the head of band of trespassers that leads Scarlett into the catacombs. As well as being underground there are some toe-curling claustrophobic caving scenes reminiscent of the 2005 film The Descent, except in As Above So Below the mythology reflects bygone cultural beliefs, rather than nature’s horrors, and you quickly buy into the story and the puzzle the characters find themselves within.
A gripping watch and commendable addition to the found-footage subgenre.
Born in Scotland and raised in London, Lou Clement now lives, works and studies on England’s South Coast in Brighton. She works full time in research & academia. She has long been engaged in cultural and artistic studies, and is studying for a Creative Writing MA. She is currently involved in several projects as writer, poet, and artist working in collage.