Sometimes it seems as though the default position for filmmakers putting together a horror movie these days is to go with a found footage format. And that's a shame, because found footage films only work when there's a reason for them to be found footage. As Above, So Below is a movie that makes no sense in this format; in fact, it would have been a much more tense, more dramatically satisfying film had the filmmakers gone with a more traditional narrative framework.
As it is, As Above, So Below is pretty much your standard decent low-budget horror movie with a shitty ending, the kind of thing you summon up on Netflix when you're really stoned and you want to give yourself a fright. The premise holds a lot of promise: Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is an adventurous young urban archaeologist who's trying to find the Philosopher's Stone in the catacombs below Paris. She brings along a translator/love interest (Ben Feldman) and a guy who's supposed to be making a documentary about Scarlett for some vague reason (Edwin Hodge, unfortunately forced to act out every African-American-guy-in-a-horror-movie cliche ever). Their discoveries in the catacombs are often incredibly creepy—not just those easy jump-scares everyone goes for, but a few slower, more earned psychological scares, too—and the film jogs along at a decent pace for a good portion in the middle. The sound design, too, is effective, pulling off a mostly music-free soundtrack by layering sound effects into a textured mosaic.
But, really, why the found footage? The catacombs would feel more claustrophobic if the camera were allowed to pull back a bit at times, or get up in the actors's faces in a way that forehead-mounted cameras can't. (See the opening scenes of The Descent for a good example of how to do horror-movie claustrophobia right.) By getting rid of the documentary angle entirely, As Above, So Below would have been forced to get a little smarter and a little more subtle in its plot, and maybe a little less muddled in its editing. Without the conceit to weigh it down, this could have been a surprising gem of a low-budget flick; as it is, it's just surprisingly tolerable.