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“The only way out is down.”
Genre: “In Search Of” Cave Horror
Year Released: 2014
Pedigree: From John Erick Dowdle, the guy who brought us The Poughkeepsie Tapes (Yay!), and Quarantine (Um…)
Where I Watched: Netflix
Synopsis: Scarlet Marlowe is an archeologist possessed. No, not like that; she’s her own personal demon, driving herself to find the mythic Philosopher’s Stone. (Sit down, Harry Potter.) After an almost deadly trip to Iran for clues, she and her friend/ex-bf George, and they translate her findings. Wouldn’t you know it, the Stone is right below their feet! Y’know, in the catacombs of Paris. But the chamber is off the beaten path, so they’ll need help from experienced, illicit, spelunkers getting there. I’m sure it’ll be a piece of cake. Hey, where’d that entrance go – it was right here….
Fabulous or Frustrating?: Caves freak me the hell out. I went balls-out caving once, back in undergrad. I didn’t have claustrophobia until that day, when I was GI Joe crawling through a tunnel leading to God knows where. Luckily I was with folks who knew their stuff, but? Never. Fucking. Again. So you best believe I heard the choppers during Below.
This film is terrifying, especially how it pulls you into its setting. A good chunk of that believability is due to the actual catacombs they used (with the blessing of the French government) during filming. The rest is thanks to the chillingly perfect cinematography, from hyperkinetic shakey-cam to the eerily beautiful darkness of the cave system. I had to pause the film a couple of times, because the feeling of being trapped in that cave felt a bit too real.
And then there’s the search for the stone. As it’s a mythical item, there are lots of creepy happenings as the crew get closer it, and when they realize that they need to get the hell out tout de suite. Dowdle keeps things visually believable, with characters thinking they’re seeing or hearing things; there’s enough terror with the unknown cave system, there’s no need to go full throttle FX. Well, until…let’s just say that things get pretty hairy in the last third, but even then the weird is more OMG than WTF.
Like a creepy video game that drags you through hell, these characters keep going and going, stumbling onto one horror after another. Cave collapses, strange switchbacks in their route, and of course all those bones. That’s just the start. The overall goal of the Philosopher’s Stone gives Below a mythic, Indiana Jones vibe, but I also got hints of The Decent (trapped in a cave story) and The House That Jack Built (heading to who knows where plot).
Without spoiling things, I found the ending trippy and satisfying, even though it is a bit of a Boom We’re Done affair. Maybe after all that went before, we’ve had more than enough to process. Still, the story is wrapped up well, and maybe not everything needs to be explained to death.
Watch this in your basement at your peril. Or at least get yourself back to the light – and some wide open spaces, even if they’re only on screen – after the credits roll.
Freak-O-Meter: 4 out of 5 Freaks