John Erick Dowdle

Universal Pictures

Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) is an archaeologist on a dual-purposed mission. She’s searching for the long-fabled Philosopher’s Stone, an archaic relic capable of transmuting metals into gold and granting immortality, but she’s also hoping to prove her father’s theories right in order to clear his name tarnished by a descent into supposed madness that ended in suicide. A breakthrough discovery in Iran leads her to Paris where she comes to believe the stone is buried somewhere in or beneath the city’s legendary catacombs. She’s joined by a documentary filmmaker, a wandering clock mechanic who reads Aramaic and a trio of local urban spelunkers, and together they descend into the world’s largest cemetery. They face the expected difficulties at first including tight spaces, rats and a creepy coven of topless hippies, but as they move deeper into the earth the obstacles become far more dangerous and mysterious. Shadowy figures and the caverns’ shifting geography are just precursors to the true nightmare that haunts each of them. As Above/So Below is yet another in a seemingly never-ending line of found footage-like horror films, but while it falls victim to many of the format’s numerous pitfalls it stands slightly apart from the crowd thanks to its performances and setting. Unfortunately, neither of those pluses can help the film’s utter lack of scares.

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Universal Pictures

So rarely does found footage go the “movie for smart people” route. And yet here we have As Above, So Below, a found footage film that shows all the hallmarks of complex thought. It’s set in a real-life spookfest; somewhere a little more niche than Area 51 or “generic European city full of exorcists”- the Catacombs of Paris. Which, if you’re not familiar with them, are mass graves hidden under the City of Love, said to contain nearly six million sets of human remains. Then, you’ve got the title, As Above, So Below, a phrase tossed around in the occult world on a regular basis, and also a phrase that comes from the ancient, Christian-ish religion of Hermeticism. On top of that, As Above, So Below eschews the Big Two of found footage nemeses- your choice of mutants or demonic possession- for something new and, dare I say it, interesting: the actual Gates of Hell. So we know that the pair of John Erick Dowdle (co-writer/director) and Drew Dowdle (co-writer) have done their scary movie research. But does the trailer do justice to all the smartness I assume will be in this extremely smart-sounding movie?

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Taking a decidedly dark turn in project choices after the success of the uber-charming Midnight in Paris and his recently-signed deals for comedies like Freezing People Is Easy and You Are Here, actor Owen Wilson will soon star in the Dowdle Brothers’ The Coup. A dark thriller from the team at Crime Scene Pictures, The Coup appears to be Wilson’s most emotionally demanding role in years, since something like 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines. The press release announcing the project describes the film as “an intense thriller centered on an American family that moves to Southeast Asia and finds themselves embroiled in a violent coup where rebels mercilessly attack the city.” Wilson will play the family’s patriarch. John Erick Dowdle will direct the film from a script he co-wrote with his brother, Drew Dowdle. John Erick previously directed Devil, and the brothers wrote The Poughkeepsie Tapes and Quarantine together, with John Erick also directing those features.

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Devil is the first of the “Night Chronicles,” a series of films in which M Night. Shyamalan comes up with the story and serves as producer but passes on the screenwriting and directing reins to others. So although Devil is “from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan,” it’s written by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) and directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine). Two names that shouldn’t elicit the same groans of disappointment.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr is stuck in an elevator reviewing movies, but he realizes that being in there with the Devil isn’t nearly as bad when you’re also stuck in there with faux-slut Emma Stone. To pass the time, he robs a few banks in The Town of Boston with Ben Affleck and embroiders a scarlet Easy A on his chest. Sigh… if only he had worn a shirt when he did that…

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shyamalan-header

M. Night Shyamalan is going back to the horror genre. Only this time, he’s just coming up with the idea and letting others run with it…

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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