Call it “found footage,” “shaky cam,” or even “mockumentary,” but, whatever it is, I’m sick of it. First used in brutal joke films like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Man Bites Dog (1992), the home-video-as-feature-film shtick took off when the directors of The Blair Witch Project (1999) brilliantly realized they could create stark terror on no budget without showing much more than people musing over weird twigs. Talk about fear in a handful of dust. Arguably hitting its triumphant apex with Cloverfield six years ago, the technique has become an unfortunate sitcom staple and led to half-assed franchises, like the declining joys of the Paranormal Activity movies. Seven movies with found-footage pretense got big releases in the last year alone. And now there’s this.
With a great title drawn from the Hermetic tradition dating back to enviable pre-Christian and pre-video eras, As Above, So Below turns on a quest for the vaunted Philosopher’s Stone (not Harry Potter’s), which our heroine, Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), believes can be found in a cavern running close to the catacombs under Paris. So, the film is not the creepy horror romp its previews suggest. In fact, it’s really a cross between National Treasure and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with claustrophobic moments stolen from The Descent sprinkled in. (There are creepy creatures, but the directors don’t know how to use them well.) The premise is well researched, but the hybrid keeps canceling out the possibility of thrills.
Maybe the shaky camera didn’t destroy this movie, but it clearly didn’t help, either. Lost-footage films imply that the protagonists have been wiped out, leaving behind only video as document. If the ending is happy, then the film is necessarily diluted. Now I don’t mind happy endings; I just don’t like mixed signals. I also hope studios kill this rampant mockumentary format sometime before Michael Bay decides to use it.