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Film Review: 'As Above, So Below,' not much in between

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Perdita Weeks, left, and Ben Feldman in a scene from the film,

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This image released by Universal Pictures shows Perdita Weeks, left, and Ben Feldman in a scene from the film, "As Above, So Below." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," is the inscription uncovered by a gang of 20-something treasure hunters in the catacomb-hopping horror flick, "As Above, So Below." But the warning could easily apply to viewers checking out this rather hopeless mash-up of "The Descent" and "(Rec)," not to mention a dozen other found-footage movies that have clogged the screens over the last five years.

Hardly credible, even for a film claiming that the gates of hell lie a few hundred feet below Paris (if anywhere, they can be found in an overcrowded Metro car with no air conditioning), this low budget effort from director John Erick Dowdle and writer-producer-brother Drew Dowdle provides a few late scares after plenty of eye-rolling setup, with said scares due more to the heavy sound design than the action itself.

First seen wearing a headscarf as she explores an off-limits cavern in Iran, gorgeous tomb raider Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) claims to be a black belt in Capoeira while holding a doctorate from University College London. While she never uses her fighting skills and fails to cite Dante when coming across the above-mentioned quote (so much for the Ph.D.), she's still brazen enough to continue her dead father's lifelong quest to discover the legendary, eternal-life giving Philosopher's Stone. (Yes, the same one from Harry Potter, though this specimen happens to be found in France.)

Teaming up with an ex-pat clockmaker (Ben Feldman, aka Ginsberg on "Mad Men") who also speaks fluent Aramaic, and a guy named Benji (Edwin Hodge, "The Purge") who's been brought on as the requisite cameraman-who-keeps-shooting-at-all-costs, Scarlett uncovers a few clues that lead her to the Paris catacombs, which famously house the bones of six million dead, buried there up through the late 19th century. The three Americans then contract the services of three spelunking Frenchies (Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar) and together they head underground, the treasure hunt taking them further and further down as things inevitably get out of hand.

Cue up lots of stinging sound effects, eerie chanting, rats, a freaky dude named "the Mole" (Cosme Castro) who pops up now and then (and who, for no reason, everyone addresses in English), and a slew of lame paranormal gags whereby each character is forced to face their own inner demons. But the characters are all so brazenly one-dimensional, and Scarlett so ridiculous (she dresses for the expedition like she's headed to the mall), that "As Above" never passes the credibility test from the get-go, only partially salvaged by a few chilling moments that pop up in the final reel.

No strangers to the found-footage game, the Brothers Dowdle (as they call their production shingle) already handled the lesser U.S. remake of "(Rec)," and while that movie at least had a decent pitch, this one feels like an oddly serious take on the tongue-in-cheek Venice cave sequence from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." It doesn't help either that this film is loaded with purposely shaky camerawork, making it hard to see what's what and who's who amid all the Mo-sick cinematography.

At best, the filmmakers capitalize on their Paris locations, staging a few scenes in the actual catacombs (still a popular tourist attraction), others in a trendy nightclub and empty Right Bank cathedral. Along with a well-chosen closing song from French DJs Scratch Massive, and one or two genuine scares, that's about the best this excursion has to offer. Come for the poster, stay for the end credits.

"As Above, So Below," a Universal release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "bloody violence and terror, and language throughout." Running time: 93 minutes.

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MPAA rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Online: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/love-is-strange-sundance-review-672160

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