Above/So Below is set to release in theaters tomorrow, August 29. Seeing as how we're a video game website, we don't normally cover movies unless they are, well, somehow tied to video games. But when I was emailed with the opportunity to view some of the cast and directors of As Above/So Below I jumped at the opportunity, mostly for the chance to talk to Ben Feldman, who I'm a big fan of due to his work in AMC's hit show Mad Men. But as I talked to Ben Feldman, Perdita Weeks, and Drew and John Dowdle, I realized that As Above/So Below actually offers something gamers could find appealing.
For those unfamiliar, As Above/So Below is officially listed as a “horror/thriller.” In the film, a team of explorers led by Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) ventures into the catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris on the hunt for an artifact that Scarlett’s now-deceased father is convinced existed. Of course, while there, they soon uncover a dark secret that lies within this city of the dead.
If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ll definitely notice that Legendary is marketing this as more of a horror film — which could be appealing in and of itself, especially given the increase in survival-horror games in gaming. One doesn’t have to look too deep to see the similarities between the film and video game industry — particularly in the way each industry approaches the horror genre and smaller budget indie titles. For director John Dowdle and writer Drew Dowdle, there’s certainly comparisons to make.
“We kind of tracked a bunch of those games that are big out there, and I think it's really interesting what's happening in Indie gaming. And it's exactly the same for film,” Drew told me. “The big, massive games, you know, the equivalent to tentpole movies, they're such a huge development expense that you need tens-and-tens of millions of people to buy the game for it to be a success. Where the Indie games, you could allow the people that really seek it out– you need a much smaller number of people to buy the game, but those ones that buy it are the ones that seek it out and have a genuine interest in it. That's very similar to the kind of movies we've made.”
In fact, being a lower budget film has also allowed the Dowdles to take some chances, in a similar fashion to how being an indie developer, free from a publisher, also allows more creative freedom. “With a smaller budget, we can say we want to go rated R; we want to get a little bizzare with this; we want to try some things that might or might not work,” John said. “There is just more flexibility of making a movie this size. Especially with horror films, you can make it edgier, and not have to appeal to everyone. That's really freeing as a filmmaker.”
That’s not to say the relatively small budget means As Above/So Below had to shoehorn itself into the horror genre. There’s also an element of adventure in it that I think fans of the Uncharted or Tomb Raider series may even enjoy.
“It’s not just a horror movie,” Ben Feldman, who plays George, a brilliant archaeologist recruited by Scarlett to document the adventure. “It's a treasure hunt, and it makes perfect sense as a game.”
“When I did play games when I was growing up, like Zelda, things that felt like you were exploring different worlds and collecting things along the way, which is obviously a major element in most games — this movie is exactly that,” he said. “There are horrifying things that happen along the way, but in the end, the characters have a common goal. They're looking for something that they absolutely need, and that stakes are so high that it's life and death.”
Even Perdita Weeks, whose character Scarlett has been compared to Indiana Jones, likened her to Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft.
“That's definitely a bold comparison, but it's that adventure spirit and the quest for something that we would never imagine existed in real life,” Weeks told me. “There is an element of fun in the adventure. In the beginning of the movie, it's exciting to her, there is a lot of history which is very accurate.”
“Lara Croft was a really good one,” she explained when I asked if she played video games, “because it was that adventure and backstory, and myth and riddle that had to be solved. And there was something about that world, in this film — solving a puzzle, finding a secret passageway. It's really fun to watch. And especially with the found footage film, that first person feel, some of the sequences in the movie wouldn't be too far from games.”
So why would your average gamer be interested in As Above/So Below? Assuming you’re not a fan of horror films, there’s a number of other aspects that one can relate to video games.
“It's an experiential movie where you feel like you're in the movie with the characters,” John told me when I asked him that exact same question. “And there are sections of the movie that are shot in the similar style to a first person shooter, where you see a bit of the actor and what's happening around them.”
“Yeah, you're in the eyeballs of the characters,” added Drew, “and you're going through a space that in some ways is very video game-like. I'd say there is a lot of crossover with what's in our movie and as far as what gamers like.”
“And now you've convinced me, that this should be a game,” joked Feldman. “Let's start a petition right now, and it will be the first game that I'm a part of.”
On a fun side note, Feldman has never actually worked on a video game, but admits that it “would be super cool.” What’s funny is Feldman’s fellow Mad Men star Aaron Staton (Ken Cosgrove) starred as Detective Cole Phelps in Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire. So who knows, maybe we will see Feldman in a game somewhere down the road.
In the meantime, you can see him in theaters tomorrow in As Above/So Below.