as above, so below (film, 2014) ↔

As a fan of the genre, I feel like found footage movies get unfairly criticized often. People complain they're all the same and rely too heavily on jump scares. Still, the format can be incredibly immersive and unsettling when done well. As Above, So Below definitely succeeds at creating that immersive atmosphere by executing the found footage style.

The film follows Scarlett, a young archaeologist obsessed with finding the fabled Philosopher's Stone. She manages to piece together clues that lead her and a group of urban explorers deep beneath the streets of Paris and into the extensive underground catacombs.

Normally, I find the shaky cam style can be overdone, but here, I thought it worked to heighten the unsettling and claustrophobic nature of being trapped underground in the light of camera-mounted headlamps. The dingy walls pressing in all around added to a true sense of dread. A lot of effort went into achieving an authentically disorienting and unnerving perspective.

What I appreciated most was that As Above, So Below took time to build atmosphere and suspense instead of relying on cheap jump scares. The tension steadily ratcheted up through unexplained sounds and appearances of strange script scattered throughout the tunnels. This slow-burn approach allowed the unease to sink in more effectively than a barrage of quick scares possibly could. The setting of the infamous Paris catacombs is sheer genius for a horror premise. Even just the factual history of how they came to be is creepy - the underground network of tombs contains the remains of over six million people.

I've seen complaints that the plot gets convoluted. Still, I don't mind some mystique and mystery in a horror film. Things start getting really weird and unexplained as they descend to greater depths. Without giving too much away, the scenes depicting the characters' warped perceptions and deepest fears were unsettling. You feel something is seriously wrong, and the natural laws have broken down.

Compared to other found footage horrors, I'd say it more than holds its own against classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. The supernatural, philosophical, and historical elements help differentiate it from run-of-the-mill haunted house/jumpy ghost movies. It also has more character development and personality than the monster/creature features like [REC]. Story and frights are balanced well.

There's no denying that Scarlet's background is a bit absurd, and she represents an overly idealized explorer/academic fantasy. But the suspension of disbelief is key with horror. Her skills allow the plot devices needed to drive the unfolding mystery. Perdita Weeks' performance makes Scarlett a genuinely likable and compelling protagonist to root for amid the terror. The supporting characters varying personalities also help each scare land more effectively as you come to care about their fates. None are just easily disposable victims. The movie does not shy away from gore or darkness, which caught me off guard in the best way.

While not perfect, As Above, So Below is an extremely solid entry into the found footage subgenre that doesn't get enough credit. Claustrophobic, unsettling, and packed with an intense finale, underground and paranormal chillers fans should give it a chance despite the mixed reviews.