As Above So Below (15 cert, 93 min) **
Along with the selfie, the found-footage movie may yet provide the lasting measure of early 21st century Western civilisation: nobody added much to the world, but hey, we photographed it all ourselves – badly, in poor light conditions, and with nausea-inducing levels of wobble. As Above So Below – the Dowdle brothers’ follow-up to 2010’s Devil – plunges us into the Parisian catacombs, and operates under a belief, as shaky as the image, that The Da Vinci Code would be improved if three quarters of it were shot underground by idiot kids wearing pin cameras that reliably capture extreme close-ups of somebody’s bum or nostrils.
We’re following improbably winsome “urban archaeologist” Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) in the search for Flamel’s Stone, an artefact purported to grant eternal life. Unsubtle rumblings suggest Marlowe Sr. went doolally on the same quest, so dial back any expectations, and then do so again upon meeting Scarlett’s support team: characters who ask “Is it bad?” when rifts appear in the stone ceiling, and “Are you hurt?” of someone flattened by rockfall. Scarlett and ex-squeeze George (Ben Feldman) hardly raise the collective IQ, unpicking the script’s cod-Copernican riddles in the manner of a stumped couple on Ted Rogers’ 3-2-1.
Throughout, there are flickers of a scarier movie: one prepared to map this boneyard, with its wrong turns and false floors, altogether more rigorously. For precisely thirty seconds, as the camera fixes on the agonised face of a character trying to pass through a narrow crevice, the Dowdles evoke a comparable claustrophobia to 2005’s The Descent. Elsewhere, what space there is fills with laughable nonsense: kohl-eyed spectres, a topless choral group, perfectly preserved Knights Templar, a burning Renault Clio. What next, we wonder: sometime World Snooker Championship finalist Doug Mountjoy? The band Pilot, performing their hit “January”?
These catacombs are just an echo chamber into which any rubbish can be pumped, and while this affords carte blanche to production designer Louise Marzaroli, the relentless flow of subterranean non-sequitur becomes at least as trying as the whirling, jerky non-cinematography. The Dowdles’ one wise move is that title, either an ancient warning along “abandon all hope” lines, or a spiritual aside on the need to balance our inner and outer selves. Whatever your interpretation, the phrase has been heeded: the film appears silly up top, in daylight, and gets only more so, late on, in the dark.
As Above So Below opens in cinemas nationwide today.