by Bob Garver
Sept. 1, 2014. People like to complain about how the Christmas season starts earlier every year. They’re right, but I’ve also noticed that the Halloween season starts ridiculously early too. I work at Hershey’s Chocolate World in Times Square and we’re already pushing the Halloween candy. I’ve walked past a few darkened stores that I can tell are going to be open any day now selling costumes. And the biggest new release over Labor Day Weekend was a horror movie called “As Above, So Below.”
To be fair, it’s not that big of a hit. It opened in fourth place behind holdovers “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and “If I Stay.” I can’t remember the last time I had to go down to fourth place to find a movie to review. It’s even arguable that it lost the holiday weekend to “The November Man,” a movie that has a slightly higher cumulative total, but opened on Wednesday, giving it a two-day head start. Still, my point about horror movies doing well on Labor Day weekend remains the same. The top ten Labor Day performers of all time include 2011’s “The Possession,” both “Jeepers Creepers” movies and, at No. 1, the 2007 remake of “Halloween.” With or without quotes, Halloween movies really do dominate Labor Day.
So what does “As Above, So Below” have to offer? Not much, really. It’s an underwhelming Found Footage horror movie trying and failing to grab the “Paranormal Activity” crowd. The story follows a group of disposable adventurers looking for the Philosopher’s Stone. Actually, that’s the European version of the premise. In America, we’d say that the story follows a group of disposable adventurers looking for the Sorcerer’s Stone. At first, I thought it was a derivative coincidence that these characters are looking for an artifact that shares its name with the driving force of the first “Harry Potter” book, but it turns out they’re one and the same.
The Stone is supposedly hidden in a system of caverns underneath Paris. The caverns also serve as a mass grave, the final resting place for millions of plague victims. It’s a creepy setting made more unsettling by the fact that certain areas don’t have very durable overhead support, so cave-ins are an issue. Plus, as a cave, there are uncertain drops and crawlspaces (though it’s hard to feel claustrophobic when you’re in a movie theater that more than likely is uncrowded). And since this is a horror movie, the cave also includes some psychos and demons.
The scares aren’t very effective. For starters, there are long stretches where nothing happens that is even supposed to be scary. A lot of the film is just the team solving lame riddles and finding secret passages. But even when the film tries to be scary, it falls flat. The violence isn’t shocking, and there’s less of it than you would think. The monsters and demons they encounter are only good for popping out at them before our heroes defeat them with one strike. Then there’s some nonsense about the team having to face their haunting pasts, which has more to do with imagery that only makes sense to them than universal terror.
I’m giving “As Above, So Below” my lowest rating of one star, but it isn’t a film that constantly insults my intelligence, patience of taste. Quite frankly, it doesn’t have the ambition to do any of that. It’s just a film with nothing going for it. Some of it is bad, but most of it is dull. If I could think of one thing I liked about this movie I’d bump it up another half star. I like that I’ll probably have forgotten about it by this time next week, but that doesn’t count.