I shall be digging deep into As Above, So Below, delving into its mysteries and uncovering its plot holes to determine if it’s deep or just a trap. So read on only if you’ve already seen As Above, So Below, or don’t plan to.
Synopsis (AKA One MASSIVE Spoiler): Basically, the film is about an underground world which resembles Dante’s Inferno and which mirrors ours. The young explorers who discover this region beneath Paris have to own up to their past regrets or die from them. There’s also a random bit about the Philosopher’s Stone, apparently to transmute this film into pure gold from a steaming pile of WTF!?
0:01:21 A young lass (Perdita Weeks as Scarlett) sneaks into Iran to secretly film caves that reveal a critical, missing piece of history. She’s undercover, or at least under veil.
0:04:38 Inside a cave she finds a giant, onyx bull head she calls the ‘Rose Key’, and not the ‘Italian man’s horn pendant’.
0:06:17 She miraculously survives the explosion in the condemned caves. The dead bloke she found hanging in a noose doesn’t fare as well.
[N.B. From an anonymous reader in the comment section: The hanging guy she sees in Iran is her father.]
0:08:04 Scarlett is now in Paris at some inner-city excavation, boasting about her degrees. The bad news is, this is a found-footage film. There’s been a plethora of these recently and most of them – like Into the Storm – should have stayed lost.
0:08:53 She’s now following in the literal footsteps of her father who killed himself while looking for the alchemist’s Philosopher’s Stone. The Philosopher’s Stone is a magic rock that can turn metal into gold. She states Nicolas Flamel was ‘widely believed’ to have accomplished this. I am well aware of Nicolas Flamel and the only way he is ‘widely’ believed is if he’s believed by obese people.
0:13:17 Scarlett finds an old friend (Ben Feldman as George) who will help her translate the symbols on Nicolas Flamel’s tombstone using the Aramaic from the bull head as a key. He knows a lot of bull.
0:16:04 On the back of Flamel’s tombstone, they find a secret poem that rhymes when translated into English. WTF!?
0:20:33 Why, hello there weird ostrich chick!
Benji (Edwin Hodge as the camera man), George and Scarlett enter a club to find a bloke called Papillion (a very sexy François Civil), because some young rocker who hangs out in the Catacombs [see 1:11:11] told her he was the one who could find her secret passage. Ah, those Frenchmen.
0:26:34 LOL! French five.
Here, then, is the team descending into the pits of this film:
- Scarlett: Leader of the pack. Named after her hair — or, perhaps ‘little scar’
- George: Her ex. A claustrophobic bloke trapped in this film
- Benji: Token black cameraman in a film that needs bodies more than blacks and cameramen
- Papillon: Attractive French urban explorer who leads the descent because he knows his way around in the dark
- Souxie: Quiet française, only along for the body count
- Zed: The third Frenchie and porter of the emotional baggage
[N.B. Kathryne, yet another reader more intelligent than I, has remarked in the comments section that the cops who pursue our intrepid heroes as they negotiate the ingress could represent the three beasts that attack Dante at the beginning of The Inferno. Well spotted, Kathryne!]
Scarlett: His [George’s] little brother drowned in a cave when they were young.
I hope there was water in it.
0:30:52 Al K Hall nudity alert: Random loony bird is leading a choir of topless women in long skirts chanting in a cavern.
034:38 The crazy chanting reaches its climax just as Benji has a claustrophobic attack. Honestly? The crazy music is overkill. Which could explain why I feel overdead – tired.
0:37:36 The entire group has to go down the passage Papillon says is haunted. These Catacombs will be the death of him, or somebody less attractive than him.
0:40:16 In one tunnel, George finds a piano like the one he and his brother used to play. This piano is crap just like his old one, so everybody is afraid. Maybe because none of them know how to repair a piano.
Why won’t you talk to me, Scarlett?
Voice on the phone when Scarlett speaks
She is talking to you, deaf bloke.
[We will later learn the voice is that of her father, who telephoned her the night he committed suicide, but she didn’t pick up]
0:41:46 La Taupe (The Mole in English), a French lad who’s been lost for ages and was friends with Papillon, shows up out of the blue black. He says he can show them a way out, though the way he says it, he makes it sound like suicide.
[La Taupe represents a soul lost in Purgatory / Limbo in the first circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.]
The only way out is down.
Their friend quotes Dante directly. In the Inferno, Dante and his mate, Virgil, continue to wind down the nine concentric circles of Hell until gravity flips and the duo pop out in the same place they entered Hell. Sound familiar? If not, it will when you see the end of this film.
0:44:57 The group follow their flat mate and rappel down a deep hole.
Scarlett: If we find the chamber, then that’s the way out. We’ll find a way out.
Souxie: Are you sure?
Scarlett: I think I’m sure.
What an oxymoron.
0:46:40 The group step in a puddle which makes the sound go numb. When the angry phantoms scream, the ghost of Jean Paul Gauthier as a wee lad appears.
[The little boy isn’t a child some English family abandoned in the Catacombs, but is the ghost of George’s brother, Danny.
Or, as reader Haley elaborates in the comments, perhaps it’s Zed’s child! “…if you look at Zed’s face after the kid appeared, he looked freaked out. He did say that he had never seen him [his son], but that could just mean that he hadn’t seen his kid in person. He could have seen photographs of his kid. … Also, if it was Danny, I think George would have tried looking for him, like he did in the ninth level.”]
0:50:06 The team open a secret door and everybody’s happy because they don’t know the film is only half over.
This is motto of alchemy and the entire point to this film. Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem is a Latin expression that George translates as, “Visit the earth’s interior parts – by rectification you shall find the hidden stone.” ‘Vitriol’ is also what I spew a lot of on this site.
[The theme of this film is descending into the Catacombs and rectifying past wrongs to reach the Philosopher’s Stone, which is reflected in the slogan.]
0:52:38 Scarlett discovers a hidden treasure room with an eternal flame that hasn’t burnt out in 5 centuries. They don’t make flames like that any more.
0:55:14 Next to the treasure is the Philosopher’s Stone, but the Frenchies don’t care about philosophy (WTF!? – plot hole) only the gold. The gold, however, is a trap, meant to distract treasure hunters from the real wealth: the stone. Which makes Scarlett a Stoner.
0:55:57 The ceiling collapses and hits Souxie and La Taupe like a ton of bricks. Because it’s a ton of bricks. The Mole’s a decent enough chap to stop screaming so the group can heal Souxie’s arm with the Philosopher’s Stone and forget about him.
0:57:14 This is the moment that an attentive reader (in the Comment section) references in this helpful addition to the narrative:
very small tidbit of nonsense; upon swimming through the underwater corridor to the the chamber to find the stone, all of the explorers were soaking wet…. minus la taupe!
Thanks once again, dear Reader!
0:59:36 While there’s not much scary in this film, The Da Vinci Code / Myst aspect is as entertaining as…well, Myst and The Da Vinci Code, I guess.
George (reading an inscription on the wall): ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’
Scarlett: According to mythology, that’s the inscription over the gates of hell.
Papillon: What!? I’m… I’m not going in there.
Lol. Papillon is so French!
1:02:10 They all crawl through a small space and wind up in a reverse replica of the room they were just in. It’s not hell, but it’s as boring as.
1:03:38 After hearing screaming sounds in an underwater passageway, the find Le Taupe – the Frenchman they left for dead – sitting there. Awk-ward.
1:04:28 Souxie goes to him, but he looks like a zombie of his former self. Despite everyone warning her to leave him alone, she continues to approach him. He snaps and kills her by beating her head on the ground. No real explanation is given of the sin she hasn’t rectified. Maybe it’s because she spoke English to him and they’re both French.
[N.B. Bunny, a reader, has presented a theory in the comments regarding Siouxie:
It’s possible that Sioux (can’t spell) was the one who talked the mole into going into the bad parts of the cave and that’s why he killed her and just disappeared.
Wonderful! It may not be clearly presented in the film, but this theory is better than none! Thank you once again for sharing, Bunny!
Another reader, Crystalia, and her friends have a theory, as well. They think her sin is not warning the group concerning the dangers in the catacombs. Her theory is fascinating and spelt out in the comments section below.]
1:07:29 Bloody brilliant ending to Benji. Crazy bird appears out of nowhere, then we hear Benji scream before we see his dead body fall to the bottom of the plot hole they’re descending.
[The ‘sin’ Benji refuses to rectify and thus has to die for is not clearly spelled out. Many viewers seem to think it’s linked to his perceived lust, or linked to the baby thrust upon him by the crazy bird before she does him in.
Crystalia seems to think it could be because “he might of murdered a woman and her child, a pregnant woman or just a woman.” Her explanation of this is very detailed and can be found in the comments section. Thank you, Crystalia!
Yet another reader, Haley, has put forth the idea that the woman with the baby who appears to Benji in the caves is a “woman in white”, i.e. the phantom of a woman who discovered Benji was cheating on her so killed herself and their child. Read about it in the comments!]
1:08:42 George’s drowned brother makes an appearance here, drowning under a pile of bones, calling out to his brother. The last third of the film is really taking off like a stripper’s knickers.
1:11:11 There’s a burning car with a white in an afro burning in the back seat and he slowly turns his head towards the Papillon, who keeps repeating, “It wasn’t my fault.” He may be talking about this film.
[The man in the car is the same one in the note at 0:20:33, who told the group to find Papillon. Which means he, like The Mole, is able to walk back and forth between the two worlds much more easily than everybody else in the film. Dead has it’s privileges.]
Brilliant image of Papillon’s legs sticking out of the sand after the car is crumpled up into another dimension. #FootGarden
[Because Papillon refuses to acknowledge / atone for his part in the lad’s death, he is put to death exactly as is described in Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell:]
Out of the mouth of each one [baptismal font] there protruded
The feet of a transgressor, and the legs
Up to the calf, the rest within remained.
1:15:21 An evil looking chap in a black, cowl-like robe [the devil] turns his pale face to the trio (Scarlett, George and Zed), while the agonizing faces frozen in the wall fill the cave with screams. The walls have more than ears.
1:17:22 Scarlett tries to save George who’s been attacked by a wall monster, but the Philosopher’s Stone doesn’t work, she realizes, because it’s the wrong stone. She must return to the first room and replace the stone to be able to heal him. Zed thinks they should just abandon George and run away. Oh, those French!
[N.B. Another of my astute readers (Mrunal) observed in the comments below that this is yet another WTF!? in the film. No reasonable explanation is given as to why the ‘fake’ stone would heal Souxie’s arm (55:57) above, yet fail to work on Ben.
Nick has also pointed out in the comments that the room to which Scarlett must return to recover the authentic stone was sealed off in the avalanche (55:57). This might be a WTF!?, or might just be that the group entered through one door (now blocked) and left through the opposite (and still accessible) door.
Samm & Jo mention in the comments that 1) “The stone heals Siouxie because at that point in time they are still in outside ‘the gates of hell’/’alternative reality’ tunnel” and 2) “the room Scarlett returns to is the mirror image room AFTER they descend into hell”. They also share an interesting theory that Scarlett has two sins for which to atone!
Xis has another, very valid theory. Perhaps it’s because Scarlett physically touches the stone to the skin on Siouxie’s arm but not with George? Xis also has some fascinating things to say about King Solomon and so much more. Read more in the comments!]
1:17:51 Lol, as she runs back, she bitch slaps a rock monster that gets in her way.
1:18:32 The fact all of the action is now filmed with only her GoPro makes the suspense better because the frame of vision is so restricted.
1:19:24 Scarlett finds a hanging figure with a towel over his head in a chamber. It’s meant to be her father, so she decides to forget about rescuing her beau in order to pull the pillowcase off the head. When she does, the figure beneath seems to be her own. She should stop hanging around.
As above, so below. As I believe the world to be, so it is.
After she replaces the wrong Philosopher’s Stone, she sees her reflection in a mirror and understands that the Philosopher’s Stone is really just the power of belief (hence, the quote) – If you believe it, it will come true. She should have believed this would be a good film choice for her.
1:21:11 Back in the hanging room, she hugs the dead body of her father and apologises for not picking up the phone on the night he killed himself. By apologising for not taking his call on the night he killed himself, she’s off Satan’s To-do list.
1:21:27 There is no camera here that could’ve recorded the angles we’re seeing. Just saying. #ThatGuy
1:22:22 Scarlett places her hand on the wound on George’s neck and kisses him. The wound is healed. The French chap doesn’t ask her to do the same to him. I’m no longer sure he’s French.
1:23:12 George admits he got lost while looking for help to save his brother. By confessing his error to Scarlett, he’s no longer doomed. By confessing to Scarlett, he also has a good idea of what it feels like to be married.
I have a child I’ve never seen. I know it’s mine, but I deny it.
It would seem Zed is French after all.
1:24:28 The three of them must fall up a deep hole.
[The well signifies Purgatory in Dante’s Inferno.]
1:26:04 Because they’re in the mirror reflection world, they have to push down on a manhole cover on the ground, and when they look through it, they see upside down trees blowing in the wind. They climb out of the hole, the world rotates 180°, and they’ve returned to Paris. Which is still a little backwards, but not physically upside down.
1:28:02 What sounds like a hipster version of a Serge Gainsbourg song for the credits.
Haley, one of my readers, provided an extensive and ingenious outline to the entire film in a comment below. I’d like to include part of here,as it explains a lot of the film, and I’ll recommend in the strongest of terms that you seek out and read the rest of her explanations in the comments section below.
…here’s the “rings” that I mapped out which also describe bits of the movie:
“Surface”— crawl over bones, cave-in, go through door anyway.
1. Hell Side A—PAP tag, piano, phone, La Taupe, boarded up vertical well tunnel.
2. Water canal, fucked up sound (dulled), ringing, roars, children whines, kid with striped shirt. Door. Secret tunnel with vulture and scarab. “Tonamaic” hinge?
3. 700 year old preserved Mason corpse and tomb. VITRIOL. Underwater.
4. Treasure room with eternal fire and pottery. Philosopher’s stone at the mouth of Nut. Trap. Cave-in. Heals Siouxee’s broken arm by rubbing the stone so grains of it falls into the wound. La Taupe missing. Porta Alchemica. “The Great Seal of Solomon.” Door on the floor.
5. Hell Side B—”Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Treasure room Nut reversed (4). Underwater.
6. 700 year old decomposed body. La Taupe. Kills Siouxee. Siouxee stays dead. Tunnel. groaning sound. (3)
7. Noose. Watery pathway mirrored of 2.
8. Vertical well tunnel down. Baby cries, woman makes sound, whispers. LiW thrusts baby in Benji’s face, startling him. Benji dies.
9. Watery canal under bones, different from 2. George sees Danny, his brother. Different child from 2 (Zed’s son?). Yells and screams. Burning car. “It wasn’t my fault.” Papillon dies. More groaning noise, from 6. Death, more cries from dead people. Twisty corridors unlike the previous levels. Throne. Wall monsters.
She goes on to detail each of these levels and what they signify… It’s a fascinating take on the film and she goes deeper into it than any analysis I’ve ever read of the film, including my own. If you’re a fan of As Above So Below (or simply lost!), her full comment is revelatory.
- WTF!?’s: 7 deep ones
- When to Follow: When you feel like watching a film more intellectual than intelligent. Not scary enough to be fun, and not fun enough to be interesting.
- Where’s This Found: I must admit to being slightly disappointed by this film. I was very impressed by director John Erick Dowdle‘s film The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which established him as the new King of found-footage films for me. Unfortunately, the acting in that film was at times insufferable… If only he could’ve had this cast in that film. As it stands, I enjoyed the mystery aspect of As Above, So Below, but was hoping for more thrills. Out of a possible 10, I have 5 F’s to give
- What To Feedback: What is your favourite found-footage film? Let us know in the comments!
[Note: I used the excellent article “As Above/So Below: A meditation in horror aesthetics, hermeticism, and Dante’s Inferno” by Brentos and an informative Reddit page from r/movies to research this post.]