The found footage genre is going into hibernation. I hesitate to say that it’s dying, because in Hollywood nothing ever stays dead, but the five year long fad that attempted to cash in on Paranormal Activity’s success is definitely on the decline. The genre is running out of ways to cleverly incorporate the handheld cameras into the story and, as a result, it’s making the films seem uninspired. As Above, So Below has some typical found footage scares and the typical found footage shaky camera work. It’s no surprise that the best moments in the film are the ones that could have existed without the characters carrying cameras around. There are some unique scares in a truly awesome location, but that’s not quite enough to separate it from the rest of the dull found footage films that force their way into theaters multiple times every year.

After discovering a strange statue in Iran, Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), a young professor, heads to Paris in search of the Philosopher’s stone, a gem that can instill everlasting life within its user. Followed by a documentarian named Benji (Edwin Hodge), Marlowe enlists the help of her ex-boyfriend George (Ben Feldman) who helps interpret a message found on the back of Nicholas Flamel’s headstone. Convinced that the stone is hidden in the catacombs underneath Paris, the group hires Papillion (François Civil), a guide who can help them enter the off limits tunnels.  After one of these tunnels collapses, the group is forced to enter an area that has never successfully been explored. Their determination to find the stone may lead them through the gates of Hell itself.

Is there a better real life location for a horror film than the catacombs of Paris? It’s truly frightening to think of all the bodies that are buried just underneath the city streets. Director John Erick Dowdle chose to shoot a majority of the scenes in the actual catacombs and the authenticity shows. Shooting the movie with handheld cameras was probably a necessity to navigate the small tunnels, but that doesn’t change the fact that I kept wishing what I was watching wasn’t found footage. The camera is almost always way too shaky and too many shots feel out of focus. The found footage genre can be done well (The Blair Witch Project) and so can an underground horror flick (The Descent), but I wasn’t a particular fan of either of them here.

Still, I love the horror genre and I was actually able to find some stuff that I did like. The film doesn’t rely on lazy jump scares, instead focusing on frightening imagery and a sense of claustrophobia to scare the audience. A scene where the group discovers a strange group of people worshipping in the catacombs is absolutely chilling and the catacomb setting makes the film feel like a fun haunted house attraction that you would visit on Halloween. There are a few jump scares in the film and most of them are done pretty poorly, but the good scares outweigh the bad. Easily the best scare in the film happens towards the end of the film when the surviving members of the group encounter a mysterious hooded figure. It’s smart, subtle and straight out of someone’s worst nightmare.

Although the treasure hunting setup feels unique for the horror genre, there’s just not enough going on here to help the film rise above mediocre. The characters are pretty average and their backstories feel forced into a finale that is already convoluted and rushed. There are some pretty effective scares on display, but when one considers that they actually go through Hell itself, it can’t help but feel like there should have been more. Ultimately, it’s being a part of the found footage genre that hurts As Above, So Below the most. If the genre doesn’t produce another great film soon, I’ll be ready to take a break from it for a long time.

As Above, So Below receives 2/4

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