As Above, So Below (2013) - Does The Ghost Haunt The House Or Does The House Haunt The Ghost?
As Above is about an obsessive modern day Lora Croft with comparable daddy issues. Following her suicidal father's quest to locate the mysterious Philosophers Stone, Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) enlists, long lost boyfriend (Ben Feldman) and a team of ragamuffin urban explores to descend into the Paris underground. As always happens shit hits the fan and the explorers become trapped, forced to confront their own desire. Immediately, the film establishes it’s primarily rule that breaking the rules is the rule. Upon exiting their first tunnel, which collapses (expectedly) the explorers find that the explorers have exited the tunnel into the room in which they entered the tunnel from. Trapped, they are forced to descend/ascend into the underground structure to find an exit. Along the way they find clues to where the ultimately find the treasure they were seeking. Ahhh, but there is a twist. After retrieving the Philosopher’s Stone and using its healing properties to evaporate the wounds of one of the explorers, when used a third time to heal the boyfriend the stone fails. Scarlett, has an epiphany, realizing the replacing the stone in its slot will reveal the real philosopher’s stone. Reflecting on the hieroglyphics she rubs a metal plate to reveal her reflection. This, of course, reveals that the philosopher’s stone wasn’t a stone, but a fictitious object that has been subjectively materialized. This is the key to the film.
As the explorers descend into the Paris under belly they come to be haunted by ghosts from their pasts. The boyfriend’s brother who had drown in a cave appears, transforming solid ground into water and shifting the acoustical properties of the cave to simulate muffled underwaterness. Rather than some mean spirited ghost using the protagonist’s memories to manipulate fright, the film promotes the concept that mirages and the psychical morphing of the cave is a kind of materialized projection. Rotting with guilt over his brother’s death the memories, thoughts and narcissistic obsession over the trauma have slipped loose from subjectivity and infected reality.
The materializations in As Above are not ghosties in the traditional sense. On the one hand, the materializations are indistinguishable from visions of psychosis. On the other hand, they reverse the dialectic of a ghostie. Once a physical object, a ghostie has transubstantialized into the un-representable. Evading mirrors and cameras a ghostie is known by its trace elements. The chair moved or vase pushed off a table. The As Above materializations originate in the repressed guilt of a trauma (un-representable) and become material. At the beginning of the journey the materializations take the form of partial objects. Like the underwater sounds I spoke about above, these fragments are functionally the loose edge of a fuller memory. Water sounds are a partial memory which functions to dislocate the trauma from its hidden vault into full consciousness. Like the tip of an iceberg simultaneously making us aware of its base and obfuscating the proportionally between the peak and base.
Unlike the traditional ghostie narrative where the haunted have an opportunity to research the mystery of their uncanny experience, the explores are confronted with their partial trauma and later the full effect of its reality, without doing the analytic work to safely integrate the trauma into a person lived reality. In this sense, the haunting take on the effect of a re-traumatizing. This overlapping of traumas recalls the fight/flight/freeze responses that have been chemically coded into the memories associated with the originating trauma while also overlapping a contemporaneous new trauma caused by re-exposure.
What is interesting about As Above, So below is its capacity to fragment and associate contradicting elements to create a re-coding of the familiar. The film follows the structure of a Vincent Price ghostie movie where a group wanders thought a haunted house and are surprised by skeletons and other creepers and eventually escape or die. The journey through the haunted house is a montage of iconic simulacra; ghosties, werewolves, Jasons, Freddys and so on, all congeal in one experience without showing their contradictions and overlapping each other’s narrative. Each simulacra isolated to their proper place in the congealment. Freddy is over there with his claws doing his thing, and Jason is in another corner. In a sense the traditional haunted house is a like a cross-less cross over where each icon is brought into the same comic book but we never see two icons sharing the same screen. As Above, So Below on the other hand melting pots the hegemonized themes like a box of action figures on a stove. Melting the ghostie and haunted house in such a way where we cannot tell if the ghostie is a product of the haunted house or vice versa.