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Film / As Above, So Below

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As Above, So Below is a 2014 found footage horror film directed by John Erick Dowdle and written by Dowdle and his brother Drew, centering around a documentary crew's experience exploring the Catacombs of Paris. It stars Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, and Ali Marhyar. The film's title is derived from a popular paraphrase of the second verse of the Emerald Tablet.

The film revolves around Scarlett Marlowe (Weeks), a professor and historian, and the culmination of her lifelong quest to find the fabled Philosopher's Stone. The sum of her research and explorations leads her to believe that the stone is hidden deep in the catacombs underneath Paris, where six million people have been laid to rest. Accompanied by her lifelong friend, a film director recording her quest, and a trio of locals who can break them into the catacombs, Scarlett descends beneath the city. But once inside, the group becomes the target of a supernatural force, using the errors of their pasts to haunt them.

As Above, So Below was the first-ever production that received permission from the French government to actually film in the catacombs.

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Scarlett is a plucky adventurer who states early in the film that she's a black belt on krav maga. In the climax, she levels a monster with one strike to the face.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist:
    • Scarlett is more than a little reckless and impatient in her passion, pulling off stunts like illegally entering Iranian ruins to find an alchemical decryption key before the site is demolished, chiselling through an engraved stone door because "they're going to blow it up anyway", and setting fire to Nicholas Flamel's tombstone.
    • George breaks into an old church tower to repair the clock, allowing the bells to ring again for the first time in over two hundred years. He's also accompanied Scarlett on some of her prior exploits, and is initially resistant to helping her again because last time he ended up spending a week in a Turkish prison.
  • Alien Geometries: Scarlett and company do nothing but descend deeper into the catacombs, eventually emerging through a manhole in the Paris streets which is in the ground on both sides.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Just before entering the catacombs, the party is attacked by a strange policeman who pounces on one of them without a single word, not even to identify himself as law enforcement or order them to freeze. Is this just how French police operates in the film? Is he related in some way to the film's events? Is he really a man to begin with?
    • The party finds a coven of Neo-Pagan/Neo-Gnostic cultists in one of the first tunnels, who Papillon claims to be harmless loonies. Whether they or their rituals have something to do with the strange events of the film is unrevealed, although one of them appears in the underworld dimension attacking Benji.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While half of the team is killed, the other half manages to survive and get away from the catacombs.
  • Black Cloak: Satan appears in one of these, slowly turning towards the characters and causing them to run.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Scarlett insists a sealed passage is the direct way to their destination, but Papillon assures them this passage is dangerous and everyone who ventured there disappeared, so the party is convinced to go another longer way. As the longer passage sends them somehow to its entrance, they then decide to try the sealed passage anyway, and that's when supernatural events start happening.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Scarlett mentions that she has a black belt in krav maga in an early scene. In the climax, she uses it.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Basically, that's how the remaining characters get out of the catacombs and back to Paris despite going down the whole time.
  • Daylight Horror: Somewhat. The setting of dark catacombs and head-mounted flashlights makes it impossible for anything to happen in full illumination, but one of the most intense scenes involves a massive fire that leaves nothing hidden in darkness.
  • Determinator: Scarlett continues to keep going through the catacombs and Hell itself in order to escape. She even manages to go back through the terrors to return the Philosopher's Stone to where it was supposed to go, including nearly getting drowned in a pool of blood by vengeful spirits.
  • Door to Before: After the group crawled through the tunnel lined with human bones (to avoid going through the "evil" tunnel), they inexplicably ended up in front of it again, and the bone-lined tunnel collapsed.
  • Dwindling Party: Doesn't start until after the Philosopher's Stone is found. But once it does, several characters end up killed off, either through supernatural or natural means.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Happens on Scarlett's second trip through the catacombs. The demon jumps at her the first time around and she screams. Second trip, she punches the same one like it was a normal human being.
  • Driven to Suicide: Scarlett's father was driven to kill himself in despair. Scarlett laments that she could have picked up the phone to talk to him, but didn't. Admitting her guilt and fault in his death is what allows her to leave.
  • Ethereal Choir: Delivered by the cultists, with startling effectiveness.
  • Evil Twin: La Taupe, and the cultist woman.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The original trio was told by a man to look for Papillon to explore the catacombs before suddenly disappearing offscreen with no warning backs. Much later, the same guy appears in catacombs inside a burning car before killing Papillon. Judging from Papillon's words it's implied he killed his friend during a car accident.
    • Early on, we see a group of creepy but likely harmless young cultists singing near the entrance of the catacombs. Benji is greatly disturbed by this, and even freaks out about them while having a panic attack, screaming about wanting them to shut up. In the opposite-realm part of the catacombs, Benji is killed by one of those cultists when she pushes him down a steep drop that he was preparing to rappel down.
    • When the trio first go to the club Benji spots an eerie woman stalking the outside who mysteriously vanishes and later she appears in the catacombs and kills Benji. We later learn she's the mother of Zed's unwanted child. It's no wonder she was lurking by the club, a place Zed frequents
    • Benji's having trouble rappelling early in the film also certainly qualifies.
  • First-Person Perspective: Several sequences are done from this, thanks to each character wearing a head-mounted camera and light.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The second time the occult woman shows up, she is holding an infant. Which raises a lot of questions about what exactly it is that Benji thinks he has done. Towards the end it's revealed that the occult woman is actually Zed's sin. He confesses that he had a child with a woman that he's refused to take responsibility for up until then.
  • From Bad to Worse: The 'heroes' keep venturing further and further into hell.
  • Healing Factor: Obtained by Scarlett after she learns where the 'true' Philosopher's Stone is.
  • Hell: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". The characters have to face their own personal demons to escape.
  • Homage:
    • The French expert at slipping into and out of the forbidden catacombs is nicknamed Papillon, likely a reference to Papillon, about a French criminal who escapes the inescapable Devil's Island.
    • Scarlett, a British Action Girl Adventurer Archaeologist with auburn hair tied into a braid, is obviously inspired by Lara Croft. A synopsis of the film even calls her "a beautiful tomb raider."
    • The way George says that he spent time in "a literal Turkish prison" is a double reference to Midnight Express (about an American who is imprisoned in Turkey) and the famous line referencing the film "Ever been to a Turkish prison?" in Airplane!.
  • Hell: Apparently there's an entrance to it under Paris. Who knew?
  • Jump Scare:
    • Papillon is flying tackled by a Paris cop who comes out of nowhere right before the party enters the Catacombs.
    • The film relies on them in the second half.
  • Karmic Death: Likely Papillon, as it's implied that he killed his friend after crashing a car while driving drunk.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: Scarlett gets her boots (and socks) pulled off when she's nearly dragged into a corpse-infested pool of blood. She does not retrieve them.
  • Meaningful Name: La Taupe ("The Mole") is an appropriate nickname for someone who explores catacombs. It has an other layer of meaningness when he betrays the group and kills Souxie.
  • Monster Threat Expiration: Scarlett's rampage through the catacombs towards the end has her just plain smacking around some malevolent corpses that originally were played up as unstoppable horrors. This may be due to her realisation after returning the stone. As she herself states: "As above, so below. As I believe the world to be, so it is".
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The official trailer implies the scene Benji is stuck in the tunnel ends with his death.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Assuming you want to call Papillon a hero, the group could have turned right back with the Philosopher's Stone if Papillon didn't go for the piles of gold and treasure, tripping the trap and causing the cave-in.
  • Not-So-Final Confession: Confessing about the crimes or misdeeds that the catacombs are haunting them with are what allow Scarlett and the remaining crew to escape the catacombs.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Both La Taupe and the creepy woman in white (first encountered in the night club where they find Papillon) display this "skill" several times.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Parisian cataphiles. Papillon ("butterfly"), Souxie, Zed, and La Taupe ("The Mole") are not real French names.
  • Opposite Day: The second half of the catacombs.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Scarlett and the tunnel demolition in Iran.
  • Philosopher's Stone: What Scarlett (and her father) tries to obtain.
  • Point of No Return: Actually happens four times. When the passage of bones caves in, when they first enter the tunnel that 'nobody comes out of', when Papillon causes the cave-in in the treasure room, and the tunnel inscribed with the message above the gates of hell, which closes up behind the group.
  • Polar Opposite Twins:
    • The first La Taupe, and the second. Helpful, and... not. Though it's up in the air if they're different entities or one and the same.
    • The first cultist woman, and the second. Harmless, and not.
    • The first mysterious corpse, and the second. Not decayed, and decayed.
    • The first As Above, So Below painting, and the second. The painting is flipped.
    • The dead bodies/bones decorating the walls of the first half of the catacombs, and the second. Dead and harmless, and alive and malevolent.
  • Police Are Useless: The police try to stop Scarlett and Co. from entering the catacombs... but fail to catch even one member of the group. And after Papillon deploys a smoke bomb, the police never try to go after them. Keep in mind, the catacombs aren't just some stupid collection of tunnels. It contains real human remains that should not be disrespected, and it's a major tourist attraction.note 
  • Police Brutality: Quite literally. The cop who tries to stop them doesn't speak or communicate in any way, not even to shout "stop in the name of the law" or merely to identify himself as a cop - he suddenly tackles Papillon without any warning and tries to pin him down, emitting just grunts during the whole scuffle.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: The inscription written (presumably in French) on the back of Nicholas Flamel's tombstone.
  • Religious Horror: Our heroes literally descend into Hell as they attempt to find the Philosopher's Stone.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Some of the deaths in this movie are heavily implied to be Karmic Deaths but it's left unexplained what the person was actually guilty of. Souxie's death could be interpreted as punishment for leaving La Taupe behind when he disappeared before the movie's events (he blames the party for it when they encounter him underground, and he's the one who kills her), but there's no clear explaination. Benji's sin and death reason are not elaborated on at all.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Psychological horror with an alchemical motif, with smaller patterns like mundane objects in inexplicable locations and alternate forms of physical locations, gives it a striking resemblance at times to the Silent Hill games.
    • Also bares some similarities to the Uncharted series, with the protagonists exploring ancient tombs in search of a legendary artifact, aided by a helpful notebook of clues, with things ultimately turning supernatural as they get closer to their goal.
  • To Hell and Back: If you want to assume Scarlett and company really did venture through hell, then yes.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The first time Souxie approaches and tries to touch the second La Taupe, he violently attacks her. So, logically, the next thing she tries to do is do it again.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The official trailer shows Papillon's death.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The movie is enjoyable on its own terms, but really understanding it involves knowing more about classical alchemy and magic that is explained in the movie.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The film is more or less a found-footage version of The Divine Comedy. It features punishments of an ironic sort, and the only way to escape is to go down.