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(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

As Above, So Below is a spooky, funhouse kinda movie from John Erick Dowdle, the writer/director of The Poughkeepsie Tapes and, more recently, Devil. The found footage film tells the story of dedicated archeologist Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) who specializes in the study of alchemy and is searching for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to be able to turn ordinary metals into gold… and hold the secret of eternal life. Scarlett’s search leads her from the Iranian desert to the skeleton-filled catacombs beneath the city of Paris, where she believes the stone is hidden. As Scarlett and her crew descend into the caverns beneath the City of Lights, it starts to become more and more apparent that they may also be entering the very gates of hell itself.

Co-written with his brother Drew, Dowdle is showing that he is finally living up to the potential he has given us glimpses of in his previous, but, in my opinion, unsatisfactory, flicks. He crafts a very creepy and atmospheric movie that starts out slow but, like a good carnival funhouse, gradually builds momentum and gets more and more bizarre and intense as it goes along. Scarlett and her crew are clearly on a hellish ride as they climb deeper and deeper into uncharted territory and some malevolent force is more than happy to torment and divert them to even darker places than they ever imagined. They are tormented by cloaked figures, strange creatures, as well as their own personal demons and it’s disturbing and claustrophobic fun to watch their expedition spiral out of control. Sure, there are some Blair Witch-ish elements we’ve seen before but, Dowdle directs them effectively, uses the found footage format to his advantage and adds some scary and clever twists of his own. He also overcomes one of The Poughkeepsie Tapesbiggest flaws and gets good work out of his cast, especially Weeks, and creates some fairly realistic and likable characters. Not all of it works. Some of it gets a bit silly and the ending seems sudden and anti-climactic, but, the preceding 90 minutes is a fun and goose-bump inducing movie with a director finally his stride…or at least getting there.

So, overall, I liked this flick and had a spooky good time with it. Not everything works and it takes a while to really start giving us some good shivers but, it succeeds more than it fails, and it adds some of its own original elements to those that have become commonplace with found footage horror. Not a great movie but, a creepy and unsettling one with a few unique twists and a very atmospheric location. Also stars Edwin Hodge, Ben Feldman and Francois Civil as members of Scarlett’s crew. I already posted my Best Horror Flicks of 2014 but, this definitely would have gotten an honorable mention. Fun horror!

Rated 3 (out of 4) skulls.

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THE PURGE (2013)

The Purge is one of those movies that comes up with a fairly interesting premise then does something incredibly routine with it. The story takes place in the near future where crime in the United States is almost non-existant thanks to “The Purge”, one night a year where for 12 hours between 7 P.M. and 7 A.M. all crime including murder is legal and anyone who wishes to vent their internal anger and hatred can do so…while those who can afford it, hunker down in their fortified homes and watch it on TV. It’s seen as a release of negative emotion and a way to thin the poor and middle class who can’t afford home lock down systems as sold by James Sandin (Ethan Hawke). James and his family live in a very rich neighborhood in a very large house which is the envy of even their wealthy neighbors. James fully supports The Purge as he feels it makes the country a better place to live and also makes him able to afford his large house through the sales of his home security system designed to keep The Purge out and those that can afford it, safely in…or so he thinks.

This is where writer/director James DeMonaco fails to make good use of his premise. Sandin and wife Mary (Lena Headey), gadget loving son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and hot teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), complete with school girl outfit, get ready for the event to begin and not long after it does, a man (Edwin Hodge) shows up at their door bloodied and begging for help. Sensitive Charlie let’s him in and soon the house is surrounded by those pursuing him, a masked group of well armed youths who give the Sandins the choice of sending their prey out or they will come in and kill everyone. A good portion of the film is the moral dilemma that splits the family, should they hand over the man who Charlie is helping hide in their home, or do the right thing and try to protect him. It’s no secret that the thugs outside eventually will have reason to come in and start the blood flowing. And that’s kinda it.

The film takes an interesting premise and settles for basically being yet another home invasion/siege film where a family sheltered from violence is forced to use it to save their own lives. And the slight twist in the last act, and the stupid subplot involving Zoey’s boyfriend, really doesn’t do anything to make the film any more interesting. It’s just another routine variation on the latest horror trend which is masked kooks trapping people in their own house that seems to have started with the much better The Strangers and the French thriller Them (Ils), thought you can even trace it back to John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 from 1976. DeMonaco directs the film competently and there is some tension and suspense, but we’ve seen it all before right down to the dumb decisions characters make in order to keep the plot moving.

The cast are fine with Hawke giving his usual sturdy performance though Headey is wasted as Mary, mostly looking upset or crying for the most part. Burkholder can be a bit annoying as Charlie and Adelaide Kane, whose character disappears for long stretches without explanation, reminds me of a young Eliza Dushku before she developed the intensity she showed in Buffy. Not as impressive, but she might have potential. As for our villains, only the leader (Rhys Wakefield) takes his mask off and is a stereotypical arrogant, elitist yuppie with his group being your typical masked giggling and skipping loonies we’ve seen a lot in films recently. Maybe if they weren’t so busy acting like giggling, skipping children, they wouldn’t get gunned down so easily by a family that’s never had to kill before.

Overall The Purge is not a terrible movie, it’s just one with a good idea that limits itself to a very routine and thus very forgettable use of that idea…and so it’s a very routine and thus very forgettable movie. It was however a box office hit, so a sequel is on the way. Maybe they will make better use of their concept this time… maybe…

2 and 1/2 bullets!

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