“What’s the Punishment for Being a Stock Character?”: I Watch “As Above, So Below”

“What’s the Punishment for Being a Stock Character?”: I Watch “As Above, So Below” September 5, 2014

for AmCon:

Well, I’ve never seen a Pelagian horror film before.

“As Above, So Below” is a collision of lots of intriguing ideas and settings. It’s about a British professor’s quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone in the Paris catacombs, despite warnings that the Stone is hidden near “the gates of Hell.” So we get treasure-hunt adventure; religious horror; nature horror, as the archeological spelunkers get trapped in cave-ins and swim through tunnels deep underground; and what we might call “justice horror,” that chillingly mathematical genre about the return of repressed old sins.

The best-handled element is the nature horror. The Catacombs are creepy and cool–and legitimately scary. The audience in my theater was happy to yelp, gasp, and cringe as the characters clamber over human bones and get stuck in terrifying wormholes.

The treasure hunt also works pretty well. There are a few moments where characters make implausible logical leaps (“‘Rectify’! That means we have to go back and replace this stone!”) but overall the quest bounces along pleasurably. Our Hermione, here named Scarlett and played by Perdita Weeks, dabbles in creative chemistry as well as arcane knowledge. There’s a Ptolemaic hinge, and a kind of glittery invisible ink which can be revealed by mixing common cleaning products and then setting them on fire.

Unfortunately, the religious horror and justice horror basically don’t work at all, in part because they’re subgenres which especially rely on compelling characterization. Spoilers below.


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