As Above/So Below
Twentysomething Scarlett Marlowe is more than just a pretty girl next door with a cool-sounding name. She's a pretty professor at University College London, archeologist and occult semiotician who's ready to do whatever it takes to pursue her deceased father's dreams.
Her dad, you see, believed that a mystical artifact called the Philosopher's Stone was a real and obtainable wonder—a magical crystal that could turn crude metal into gold and held the key to eternal life. But don't go imagining that Scarlett's simply interested in treasure or immortality. No, this is a far more serious pursuit. She seeks truth.
Her father was driven to madness and suicide by this quest, and Scarlett wants to know that his death was for more than naught. And, in fact, her recent trip to Iran has proven that he was indeed very close to his goal. There, she risked life and limb to find the Rose Key, an ancient code breaker that could unlock the mysteries of one Hermes Trismegistus' tombstone.
All the clues seem to be leading to an unknown location somewhere beneath Paris. With the help of her friend George, they've pinpointed a spot some 370 feet down in a cavern somewhere just outside the confines of the ancient catacombs.
Now, sure, the catacombs—being a national artifact holding some 6 million human skeletons—are well guarded by the authorities. But since she has George at her side, along with a documentarian named Benji and a small crew of French speleologists, Scarlett's sure she'll finally be able to make her way to the Philosopher's Stone.
Why, she'd breach the gates of hell itself to see this thing through!
Which is exactly what she's going to have to do.
Scarlett is a driven individual with a selfless goal. And even though she's actually leading some of her friends to their deaths, she never does so callously. In fact, she makes every effort to save those she's endangered, at one point running back on her own through a gauntlet of terror to try to save the life of a fallen comrade.
She also heals a wounded friend with the Philosopher's Stone, which is said to have kept lamps burning for 700 years. It's stated that the "number of the devil" is 741. And the group of explorers enter a small room that holds the still fully fleshed remains of a 700-year-old Knights Templar man.
During the credits, a large pentagram is one of the symbols that decorates the screen. An inscription carved into the wall over a crawlspace quotes a passage from Dante's Divine Comedy, saying, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." Of course, Scarlett and the others crawl on into this "hell's gate," facing dark ominous sights and sounds that include screams of torment, blasts of large horns, pools of blood and outright demonic creatures.
We're told that "As Above, So Below" is actually an axiom pulled from an ancient pagan belief system called Hermeticism, and is said to refer to the study of earthly things as a way to understand the heavenly. (The phrase is now used both in Christian traditions and by practitioners of the occult.) In the context of the movie, it's said to be the key to all magic, being the equivalent of "As I believe the world to be, so it is."
[Spoiler Warning] Eventually Scarlett comes to realize that many of the things she and her group are being shown are representative of bad choices they've made or some kind of guilt that's weighing on each of their souls. It's only with a "rectifying" act of admitting past wrongs that the survivors are eventually able to make it to safety.
In a catacombs cave, Scarlett and her friends encounter a group of chanting and singing female devil worshippers, some of whom are topless. In the course of jumping in and out of pools of water and blood, Scarlett and another woman, Souxie, end up with clingy, wet tank tops. Ladies in a club wear skimpy outfits. Scarlett and George kiss passionately.
Since all of the film is captured by either the shaking and jumping lens of a handheld camera or one of several small pin-cameras mounted on headlamps, images of some of the nastiest bloodletting are distorted and disfigured somewhat. But we still get visceral doses of quite a lot of death and destruction.
A young boy struggles and drowns. A man screams while being roasted alive in a burning vehicle. Someone else is sucked into those flames and left with nothing but feet and ankles sticking out of the cave floor. Scarlett sees her father after he hangs himself. Bloody hands reach out to grab someone from a pool of gore. A stone figure carved in a wall leaps forward and rips a large chunk of flesh out of a man's throat, leaving him bleeding profusely and gasping for life.
A woman is grabbed by a maniac who batters her head repeatedly against a rock; her forehead cracks open and she's covered in gore. A man is pushed from the top of a 100-foot height, and we see him crash to the ground below, breaking his neck. That same guy, earlier, falls while grabbing at climbing ropes to save his life, his hands getting ripped and bloody.
A woman is crushed beneath the falling rock of a cave-in. (When she's pulled out, she's covered in blood and her arm is obviously ripped and crushed.) Somebody struggles and panics while wedged in a tight tunnel full of human bones. He cries out as rats bite his ankles. While in Iran, Scarlett sees a man's corpse hanging from the ceiling just before the cave she's in is destroyed by explosives. She's thrown about by the blasts.
Crude or Profane Language
About 50 f-words and 30 s-words. We also hear "h---" and "a--." God's and Jesus' names are misused a total of 20 times; God's is combined with "d--n" once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Partyers drink wine and hard liquor.
Other Negative Elements
Scarlett enters Iran illegally and, later, breaks into an abandoned cathedral while searching for George.
The Descent meets The Da Vinci Code meets Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
As Above/So Below borrows and blends claustrophobic underground crawls with inscrutable mysticism, historical-artifact puzzle-solving, and on-the-cusp-of-hell bloodletting. You could say it sends its characters six feet under, both literally and figuratively.
Admittedly, some of that hybridization isn't as homogenous and one-dimensional as it might immediately sound. The determined Scarlett and her fellow eccentric-academic George make for a compelling pair as they bounce ancient clues off each other while pursuing her archeologist father's life-passion with Indiana Jones levels of glee and guts. And some of the history-lite dialogue feels like it could have been part of an involving story if only it had been exposed to the bright light of day at least once or twice.
But it wasn't.
Instead we're given a shaky-camera, headache-inducing found-footage chase that heads down, down and forever down into the dank and the dark of the bone-strewn catacombs. There our "heroes" wrestle with vague, soul-encumbering personal guilt while hellish entities gnaw on their necks and crack open their skulls. As Above/So Below is unnecessarily profane, populated by albino-skinned dead reaching from pools of blood ... and destined for a second slow death on Netflix.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Perdita Weeks as Scarlett Marlowe; Ben Feldman as George; Edwin Hodge as Benji; François Civil as Papillon; Marion Lambert as Souxie; Ali Marhyar as Zed; Cosme Castro as La Taupe
August 29, 2014
December 2, 2014