A British archaeologist stumbles upon a long-lost ancient artifact that reveals a crucial clue to a powerful mythical relic. She travels deep within the Paris Catacombs, a labyrinth of traps and puzzles, to locate the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, and finally unravel a forgotten mystery that may change the world as we know it. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong to guess that this is the plot of a Tomb Raider game. It’s actually the story of a 2014 horror film, called As Above, So Below – perhaps the best unintentional Tomb Raider movie you’ll ever likely see.
When I first watched As Above, So Below in 2014, I was left underwhelmed. At face value, it’s nothing more than your run-of-the-mill found footage horror film with some decent scares and clever set-ups, but void of any real tension or artistry. Years later, I decided to give it a shot again, but this time, something clicked about the movie that I didn’t expect to discover – it’s actually a great Tomb Raider movie in disguise. I’m not saying that the film itself is great by any stretch of the imagination, but when I treated it as a Tomb Raider movie instead of a horror film, my perspective changed quite a bit. We’ll dive into the film and dissect what makes it more than the sum of its parts, and how it possibly draws inspiration from the popular video game series in unexpectedly brilliant ways.
Firstly, we need to talk about the main character, Scarlett, played by Perdita Weeks. Immediately, she ticks all the boxes for being a compelling Lara Croft-like persona. British? Check. Archaeologist, with an innate fascination for ancient relics? Check. Brown hair, jawbone structure similar to Lara Croft? Check. Actually raids tombs in search of artifacts? Check. Surely during the creative process of making the film, someone must’ve brought up that the story, along with its main character, is awfully reminiscent of Tomb Raider. Even the opening scene, which sees Scarlett infiltrating a tomb in Iraq to discover a secret room - all the while a countdown ticks off to detonate bombs that will level the tomb - is textbook Tomb Raider.
I believe this might’ve been the case with the filmmakers, who knew exactly which pool they were lifting their inspiration out of, but never made it known in any interviews nor making of documentaries. As Above, So Below was meant to capitalize on the found footage horror film craze during this time period, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that they intentionally wanted it to parallel Tomb Raider in a lot of ways – subconsciously separating it from your typical horror flick.
Next, let’s talk about the setting of the film. If there’s one thing I can offer praise to the film as a whole, it’s the choice to take the horror down into the eerie, claustrophobic confines of the Paris Catacombs. We’ve never seen a horror film set in this location before, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a majority of the actual filming happened within the real Catacombs. Above being a horror, though, As Above, So Below actually works as a captivating mystery. By utilizing the haunting lore and terrifying fables of this underground labyrinth of the dead, the filmmakers were able to conjure up some sinister scares. More importantly, the scares are never once at the forefront of the film. Instead, the plot is driven forward by the alluring mystery surrounding the Philosopher’s Stone, its founder Nicolas Flamel, and how the Catacombs serve as a literal gateway to hell itself.
Scarlett, joined by a group of friends and guides, travels into the Catacombs in search of the stone, but the further they go down, the more evident it becomes that they’re in over their heads. The scares ramp up, and so does the stakes. Each breakthrough in the Catacombs is treated like a descending circle of hell – a stroke of genius that I can only describe as the escalating level of difficulty present in video games. More specifically, something you would find in a Tomb Raider game. The traps are more elaborate in each descent – or circle - and the puzzles escalate in difficulty too. The film is structured in a way that almost reflects the principle of escalating stakes and challenges in a video game. Furthermore, it provides a compelling reason to think that someone on the writing team actually played Tomb Raider, making the comparisons far more believable.
By the end of the film, with most of the fodder characters unceremoniously killed off, you’re left with Scarlett and a couple of other key characters who have reached a breaking point in their adventure. After seemingly entering the gates of hell, the entirety of their journey into the Catacombs is cleverly mirrored to their initial descent – from the layouts of the room where they find the Philosopher’s Stone, to Nicolas Flamel’s burial chamber and the same corridors they initially travelled down – and are now travelling upwards. Cloaked demons now roam the corridors, and like an elaborate game of stealth, Scarlett must traverse the environment while avoiding detection. When one of her partners is attacked by a demon, she realizes the only way to save him is to retread her steps back to the reversed room of the Philosopher’s Stone to collect the true stone, which magically heals all wounds. And thus, the most “video game” third act occurs that I’ve ever seen in a typical found footage horror.
To its credit, As Above, So Below features a pretty impressive character arc in Scarlett. She begins as a timid archaeologist who places most of her faith in science, to becoming a certified hard-headed adventurer who retreads her steps back to the stone room with all the conviction of, well, Lara Croft – tackling demons, escaping bloody traps, and solving a puzzle that almost felt as if the audience were meant to interact with the film like a video game. I, for one, could see myself playing a level in a Tomb Raider game that features this exact scenario, right down to the supernatural twists and turns. Once the credits rolled, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how invested I was in the journey, and all because I reimagined the film to be Tomb Raider. It’s weird, but hear me out.
As Above, So Below, when treated as your average found footage horror film, is nothing special at all. In fact, it falls victim to the same cheap horror filmmaking techniques that plagued the genre at the time, and continues to do so till today. However, in my desperation to find some redeeming qualities in the film, I mistakenly ended up treating it like Tomb Raider – a warped approach that actually ended up transforming this unassuming horror flick into, arguably, a great Tomb Raider movie. I urge people to revisit the film and see it from this perspective too. You might actually end up finding Lara Croft too.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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