Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Paris suffers the paranormal pap

Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman in "As Above, So Below."
Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman in "As Above, So Below." Universal Pictures
Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman in "As Above, So Below." Gallery: Paris suffers the paranormal pap

They're going to have to start issuing licenses to all these filmmakers who insist on shooting their movies in the shaky-cam "found footage" format. Because something needs to be done to limit this explosion of cell-cam/security cam/nanny cam and GoPro footage that's dominating the Horror Hit Parade.

Those Quarantine and Poughkeepsie Tapes Minnesotans, the Dowdle Brothers, overuse and abuse handheld cameras for As Above/So Below, a thriller about what might come after you in the catacombs beneath Paris.

It's a modest marriage of Indiana Jones and Da Vinci Code archaeological puzzle-solving with the denizens of The Descent, supernaturally attached, almost as an afterthought. And for all the paranoia that clambering through dark caves beneath Paris promises, the Dowdles insist on a headache-inducing orgy of bouncing cameras to seal the deal.

Urban archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) videos herself sneaking into Iran in an attempt to poke around some caves before the government blows up some priceless piece of human history.

Her Iranian contact warns her not to follow in her late archaeologist father's footsteps ("His quest was a path to madness"). But she is single-minded. She finds evidence of the talisman he was seeking and, surviving the demolition of the caves (shaky/dusty cam), sets out for Paris to finish his search for a magic rock.

She picks up a videographer who wants to make a documentary about her, Benji (Edwin Hodge), her old translator pal George (Ben Feldman), and a trio of French spelunker punks led by a guy who calls himself Papillon, played by Francois Civil.

Scarlett puts on her best French-weave see-through sweater, and they're off, following Papillon to the unknown corner of the ancient French burial chambers, where six million dead folk are entombed.

As Above takes forever to go below, and once there, another long while passes before supernatural trouble starts.

The performances are perfunctory, and the rising tide of fear they should all be feeling is limited to Benji's single claustrophobic panic attack - the only compelling, human moment the players manage.

The Dowdles' Quarantine was one of the better films of the "found footage" era. But they made that six years ago, long before this format had been beaten and shaken to death.



As Above/So Below *1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by John Erick Dowdle. With Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.

Parent's guide: R (bloody violence/terror, and language throughout).

Playing at: area theaters.

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