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The experience of watching As Above/So Below is much like observing a colonoscopy in the hands of a particularly inexpert and excitable physician. Instead of human intestines, we have the bowels of Paris — the mass cemetery known as the catacombs — into which a small group of rash young folks spelunks in search of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.
As Above/So Below
Directed by John Erick Dowdle; written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle;
Released by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Cast: Perdita Weeks (Scarlett), Ben Feldman (George), Edwin Hodge (Benji) and François Civil (Papillon).
Its beyond-reckless leader is Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), an alchemy scholar who’s not above defacing valuable museum pieces to find the rock that’s rumored to transform base metal into gold. Accompanied by a malleable sidekick (Ben Feldman) and three French hangabouts who profess to be catacomb-savvy, Scarlett (whose multiple advanced degrees prove no help in selecting a sweater that covers both shoulders simultaneously) barges over the bones of the dead.
With its pell-mell pacing (wait, who just died?) and careening point of view — cameras are lodged in headlamps and the trembling hands of a barely seen documentary filmmaker — this quivering effort from director John Erick Dowdle only increases in impenetrability whenever anything mildly curious occurs. Roars and rumbles send the group charging repeatedly through what looks like the same narrow passageway and stinky puddle, screaming and flailing and rifling through emotional baggage.
Along the way, the insufferable Scarlett helpfully schools us and her companions in mythology, like a hipster Edith Hamilton, although the movie’s signature signage — “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” — is the only instruction we really need.