Brothers overcome challenges to film 'As Above/So Below' in catacombs
If you had to guess which movie director was recently the first to be granted access to the nonpublic areas of the catacombs six stories beneath the streets of Paris, you might say, Luc Besson, Leos Carax or another of France's most prominent names.
Mais non. That honor has gone to John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, Minnesota filmmaking brothers who have made a name for themselves in Hollywood with smartly scary indie horror films like “Quarantine” and “Devil.”
Opening Aug. 29, their new film “As Above/So Below” follows two young archaeologists (Perdita Weeks in the lead role and Ben Feldman, best known as the troubled Ginsberg on “Mad Men”) as they and a claustrophobic cameraman (Edwin Hodge) pursue the fabled Philosopher's Stone said to be buried deep in the uncharted catacombs.
Along the way, they discover secrets that cause them to examine their own personal demons, hence the movie's title.
Getting permission to shoot wasn't easy. “We had to jump through a lot of hoops, but it was more a matter of cutting through bureaucracy than resistance,” says John, 41, the directing half of the duo.
That hurdle turned out to be minor compared with what was to come. Shooting hundreds of feet underground in dank, pitch-black tunnels with cameras and lights strapped to their foreheads presented their biggest logistical challenges to date.
“We'd be up to our chests in water, with just a little access to air, having to keep everyone in the crew calm,” he says. “Ten hours a day down there, you'd start to feel a little loopy. The walkie-talkies and wireless didn't work because the walls were too thick, so every scene it would be the actor, then the sound guy, then us all running through spaces with our head lamps turned off. We'd really take a hit where the ceiling dipped lower. Our camera guy was wearing a head brace by the end.”
The psychological effects were also notable, says Drew, 40, the film's producer, who also cowrote the screenplay with his brother.
“On our first location scouts, we went in with the sound system, crawling on our elbows and knees for 50 yards at a time through these holes in the ground,” he says. “About four hours in, when we were like a mile deep, one member of the crew had a full-on meltdown. We thought, ‘Wow, this space really works. We need to repackage that.' ”
Despite the complete saturation of the horror genre, especially with straight-to-streaming options proliferating like maggots on a corpse, the brothers are confident that an original, intriguing horror film is still not impossible to pull off.
“We just try to think of what would get us to go see a movie,” John says. “Plus, this one is really an Indiana Jones-type adventure, but with a female lead, that leads into a horror space: something epic in scale, done in a personal, intimate setting, that gets the audience invested in the search.”
Their next film, scheduled to be released next spring by the Weinstein Co., marks a higher-profile departure for them. “The Coup” stars Owen Wilson as a father frantically trying to protect his family during a violent takeover in an unsettled Asian country where foreigners are being executed.
“All our films are about some sort of crisis, but, this time, we're exploring a different dramatic element, a family survival tale,” John says.
The brothers, who used to plot out filmmaking scenarios in the bedroom they shared, looked to the Coen brothers as role models. Emulating Joel and Ethan Coen respectively, John enrolled in film school at New York University and Drew went into business, picking up tips on film financing while doing a stint as an investment banker. Their first film, a sex comedy called “The Dry Spell,” didn't make any money, but earned a top award at Sundance in 2005. Three years later, their low-budget thriller “Quarantine” rocked the box office, beating Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe's $100 million “Body of Lies” on opening weekend.
The Dowdles can trace their interest in horror to before they were born.
“Our mom saw ‘Psycho' at too young an age,” Drew says. “That's the kind of stuff we would congregate as a family to watch, like ‘The Shining' and ‘The Omen.' And of course ‘The Wizard of Oz' was our first favorite. Mom would hide and run out behind us and scream in a perfect Wicked Witch of the West impersonation. As soon as we were old enough, we'd hide in her closet and scare her back.”
They haven't grown out of it, apparently. During the “As Above, So Below” shoot, John says, “I'd sneak higher up in the catacombs and grab Drew from above.”
“Now, we just get paid to do that stuff,” Drew says.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Museum offers Enigma encryption
- Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ is bloody good mockumentary fun
- ‘Me and Earl’ movie gets July release date
- DVD reviews: ‘Whiplash,’ ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘Horrible Bosses 2’
- Review: Smith, Robbie throw wet blanket into ‘Focus’
- Kickstarter funds would go toward great-niece’s film about Warhol