As Above, So Below is a confusing but clever horror movie – here’s what its hellish twist ending is about. As Above, So Below is director John Erick Dowdle’s sixth feature and like his earlier films The Poughkeepsie Tapes and Quarantine, it’s a found-footage horror. Unlike those films As Above, So Below requires some background knowledge to properly appreciate it – namely in the areas of alchemy and the literature of Italian poet Dante.
The plot of As Above, So Below follows alchemy student Scarlett (Magnum P.I.’s Perdita Weeks) and her mission to find the philosopher’s stone. Harry Potter fans may recall the stone is an object supposedly discovered by French alchemist Nicolas Flamel in the 14th century with the power to grant immortality and turn metals into gold and silver. Scarlett is following in her late father’s footsteps, whose attempts to find it drove him to suicide but that foreboding fact doesn’t put her off.
After discovering the stone is in the claustrophobic catacombs under Paris, Scarlett enlists a team to accompany her that includes old flame George (Superstore’s Ben Feldman), cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge), French guide Papillon (François Civil) and his pal Zed (Ali Marhyar). While they explore the catacombs, Dante’s poetry enters the equation and things start to get freaky. Basically, the groups’ journey mirrors the plot of Dante’s Inferno – the first part of his epic poem the Divine Comedy. In Inferno, the narrator (Dante himself) enters Hell and must travel down through its nine circles to escape and find salvation. Like Dante, the characters in As Above, So Below must travel down through the catacombs – with different stages representing the nine circles – and recognize their own sins to escape. Some of them aren’t capable of this, hence when Papillon is confronted by his sinful past and claims he’s blameless he ends up dying.
By the end of As Above, So Below just three of the group remain – Zed, a gravely wounded George and Scarlett, who thinks she has the stone in her possession. Zed’s sins center around having a son he never sees and for George, it’s about the role he played in his brother’s accidental death. Scarlett’s sins are twofold; she didn’t respond to her father’s call for help before he committed suicide and she stole the philosopher’s stone. Scarlett realizes they must rectify their sins to escape, so she rushes back through the catacombs to put it back where she found it. In the process, she also realizes there is no physical stone. Rather, its powers are in the beholder of the stone (i.e. Scarlett) and are dependent on her faith in the stone and in herself.
With this knowledge, Scarlett brings the wounded George back from the brink of death. The remaining survivors of As Above, So Below then confess their sins and go through a manhole before emerging topside on the streets of Paris. This references something one of the catacombs’ apparitions told them earlier - the only way out is down. That made no sense at first, as going further and further down to get back to the surface seemed counterproductive but it’s also how Dante escaped in Inferno – only by going down through the circles of Hell did he emerge back on Earth.
At its heart As Above, So Below is a film about redemption and faith and borrows heavily from Dante’s Inferno to get that point across. It’s not the most straightforward of films, which is probably why many disliked it, but with its twist ending and nods to Dante, it’s a horror film with more to say than most.