Dowdle Brothers Talk As Above, So Below

As part of their promotions for the tomb raiding adventure picture As Above, So Below, Universal [...]

As part of their promotions for the tomb raiding adventure picture As Above, So Below, Universal Pictures held a junket in the catacombs beneath Paris. These tunnels, the film tells us, are haunted by ancient forces and even if you don't believe any of that business in the cold light of day, going down there after dark might be enough to sow at least a tiny seed of doubt in even the most rational mind.

Thankfully, my interview with Jon and Drew Dowdle, the film's co-writer and director and co-writer and producer respectively, took place over the telephone. This was massively more comfortable for me, and involved a lot less travel, currency exchange and human skulls... but apparently no less haunting. Pretty much every technical error that could happen during the call did, and it's a miracle that my audio recording didn't delete itself before I got a chance to transcribe it.

I've had to cut out several minutes of spooky goings-on and time-wasting techno-creepiness, but here is what Jon and Drew had to tell me about their film. I got them going by asking about the film's first scene - specifically meaning the first, tremendously efficient scene, a bit of shorthand stage-setting set on a bus and lasting just a few seconds. They misunderstood and thought I was talking about the entire opening sequence. 


: We wanted to start the movie with a bang and to do something big and flashy yet give you a sense of who Scarlett is and what she's capable of; of her driving passion to discover the truth.


: We thought we had to start with something classic and big but also establish that she's searching for something that her father also spent his life searching for and that she's finding the missing link right now. We're about to go into a section of the movie where we'll need a lot of exposition and things are rather more calm, so we wanted to get adrenaline pumping early, before that. We didn't shoot much more for this sequence than you see.

: It will buy you time to establish character in the body of the movie if you start with a bang.


: They are a lot of pretty subtle references to arcane things, even in the opening titlesthe film's title appears just how Abraxas or Abracadabra would always be written in a triangle. Are all of the occult ideas yours? Did you do a lot of research into this stuff, or is some of it the work of a whole team of designers and crew members bringing things together?

: We really went down the rabbit hole on this. We've long been fascinated with [purported alchemist] Nicolas Flamel. For research I, went to Egypt by myself for a month and traveled up The Nile, looked at all of the Temples of Isis along the way. I studied all of those.

: Doing the research on this was a real pleasure. We liked the alchemical angle because it transcends the Judeo-Christian world. We can use Egyptian mythology, Christian mythology, alchemical mythology. It's much broader than any religion. We liked the idea that in alchemy, the state of the chemist can effect the chemistry, and that's pointing towards the real core ideas of this movie.

: At the end of the film, it's pretty ambiguous but it's my interpretation that...

: We don't want to discuss that too much. We like the end of the film to stand alone, as it is, and let's not lay it out too clearly. We like that this is discussion, though, that there's a question. I'd rather not go on record one way or the other with that one.

: Good answer. I like that.

: I hope you don't mind me asking the obligatory last question about what you're working on now.

: We have a film coming out March 6th, The Coup, with Owen Wilson and Pearce Brosnan. We're finishing that off now; it's more of a family survival movie, an action thriller. Then we have a couple different things, a couple different scripts we're working on and we'll have to wait to see which of those will go.

And just like that, the ghosts had wasted all of my time. Thanks again to Jon and Erick for their answers, and for putting up with the haunted phonecall from hell.

Now, I won't spoil the end of the movie for you, but I do want to say that it's maybe not as straightforward as many have assumed. And do remember Drew's comment that "the state of the chemist can effect the chemistry." That will help you tease out more of what Jon and Erick worked into As Above, So Below, beyond all of the obvious scares and adventuring.

In fact, while we're here I think I should probably say that I found this film to be less of a typical found footage horror movie than a character-driven adventure story with some big horror-type jumps and scares. It's also the kind of film where smart people come out on top by riddling their way along, not by shooting or punching, though there's certainly a lot of running about when the action calls for it.

is released in the US and the UK on Friday August 29th. It's probably not what people are expecting so I really hope it can find its way to the right audience.