The found-footage sub-genre has really come of age, and the Dowdle Brothers ("Quarantine") give it their own supernatural spin with "As Above, So Below" (Aug. 29). But although they were playing with an Indiana Jones-like archaeological bit of horror, John Erick and Drew told me after the Legendary panel in Hall H that the project didn't coalesce until Legendary producer Thomas Tull pitched them the Paris catacombs concept.
"Scarlet Marlowe [Perdita Weeks] is our fearless archaeologist who is searching for something and won't be stopped," explains director John Erick, who co-writes with brother Drew. "We were also fascinated with the stories of Nicolas Flamel, who allegedly discovered The Philosopher's Stone. But we wanted the movie to feel almost like: What would happen if you wandered into your own mind? The thing you would never tell another person. What would happen if you found that in a physical space?
"We went off and shot it very quickly in the real thing, exploring these ancient caves with graffiti from the French Revolution and there were Nazi inscriptions -- all kinds of crazy stuff down there. I didn't realize that 'Phantom of the Opera' was through the catacombs until researching it."
They went all-digital with the Red Epic as the main camera and for the head camera used the Panasonic Actioncam. They lit most of the movie with the light on the actors themselves and one light on the camera and really just let the light fall where it may and tried to embrace the accidental nature of some of the shots.
"The historical setting is very interesting for this kind of found-footage movie that's very psychological, and that really delves into the subconscious and embraces its supernatural nature in a documentary way," adds Drew. "Early movies like 'Blair Witch' felt the need to try and convince you that they're real, and that really worked, but this one doesn't have to. If it feels real and the characters are strong, an audience will go with you."
Utilizing such horror touchstones as "The Shining," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Exorcist," "The Omen," "Jacob's Ladder," and, yes, "The Wizard of Oz," which they found terrifying as youngsters, the Dowdles relied on dislocation instead of gore to frighten viewers. And despite the claustrophobic nature of being trapped underground, as the characters go deeper into the catacombs, the environment expands.
"One of the nice things about the found-footage sub-genre is you don't owe a shot of blood spraying out of a neck. You see somebody in the distance falling down and you go, 'Oh, my God! I think they just died!,'" John suggests.
But it's truly supernatural: As characters go deeper, they come face to face with their own personal demons. And a still image of something that doesn't belong there is still more terrifying in the long run than torture porn.