Nothing about Perdita Weeks’ character in the new found-footage horror flick As Above/So Below is ordinary, and thank the genre gods for that.
Weeks, a fresh-faced 28-year-old starlet from Wales, UK, stars as Scarlet Marlowe, a strong, fearless role created by filmmaking siblings John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil) as the “female Indiana Jones.” Scarlet’s guided by one sole mission: to prove that her late father, a historian who specialized in alchemy, wasn’t crazy for obsessing over the whereabouts of the infamous Philosopher’s Stone once sought out by legendary alchemist Nicolas Flamel. After a nearly fatal, and totally illegal, excursion into an Iranian cave, Scarlet ends up in Paris to further document her investigations; she believes the stone is buried deep beneath the city’s streets, somewhere within the Parisian Catacombs, a city-long grave housing over six million skeletons, dating back to the late-18th century. Along with old flame and fellow scholar George (Ben Feldman), her cameraman (Edwin Hodge), and a few local “catophiles” (or Paris natives with vested interests in the Catacombs), Scarlet heads deep into the underground tunnels, and, before long, takes a detour through the Gates of Hell—literally.
Multiple cuts above other recent first-person POV horror movies, As Above/So Below is a unique mix of creep-out scares, Goonies-like action-adventure, and Da Vinci Code-esque, history-minded mystery. Most impressive of all, though, is the fact that director John Erick Dowdle and his game cast shot in the actual Catacombs, lending the film an authenticity that both sets As Above/So Below apart from other genre productions and amplifies the claustrophobic tension. Green screens and CGI, be damned. And Perdita Weeks anchors it all, giving horror a new heroine who’s smart, sophisticated, and able to elbow oncoming ghouls square in their faces. Which, yes, she does in As Above/So Below, and it’s quite badass.
Earlier this month, I flew out to Paris to sit down with As Above/So Below’s filmmakers and cast to discuss the movie in its real-life setting. Throughout this week, we’ll post those interviews leading up to the film’s opening this Friday, August 29. First up, Perdita Weeks explains why a certain video game hero turned Angelina Jolie character needs to watch her back.
One thing that separates As Above/So Below from other Hollywood horror movies, particularly other found-footage horror movies, is how lived-in and authentic it feels, which can be directly attributed to how you actually shot it in Paris and in the Catacombs.
Absolutely, it’s about Paris. I’d been to Paris many times, but for this movie, I got to live here for a little bit. That was totally one of the reasons why this project excited me so much, but I didn’t even realize how much it would focus on Paris until I got here and we started shooting. The first place we shot at was at the top of that bell tower; I walked out on that roof, looked across the entirety of Paris, and said to myself, “This. Is. Insane! What are we doing here?” I couldn’t believe it was work. Actually making the movie kind of felt like being in a video game, too. It felt like I was in a real-life Zelda, where we were figuring out these mysteries, and with every answer we’d find, we’d get deeper and deeper into the Catacombs.
There’s a really cool Goonies vibe to the movie, too, especially when you and Ben Feldman have to carefully remove rock slabs in order to proceed—that reminded me of the part in The Goonies where they’re playing that old skeleton piano.
I love The Goonies! I hadn’t thought about that.
Being that you’d been to Paris prior to shooting, were you aware of the Catacombs and the long, crazy history associated with them?
I knew they existed and that they were known for being this creepy home of millions of bones and skeletons, but I didn’t know the extent of everything that’s gone on down there. I didn’t how they came to be. We had a Catacombs expert on set to answer all of our questions. The most incredible thing to me was that these were the old mines—this is how they built the city. This is why and how Paris exists. They just dug under, took all the limestones, and, voila, you’ve got the Louvre, and you’ve got the Notre Dame Cathedral, and you’ve got the Eiffel Tower. That’s so “as above, so below,” really, with how they took these things out of the ground and used them to build what we now see above.
I remember the first time we went down to get a feel for the landscape. I noticed those black marks on the ceilings, which the explorers and miners used for directions and to not get lost, and a lot of those marks just disappear into the walls. It doesn’t take much to make those catacombs feel scary. [Laughs.]
We filmed pretty much the whole movie down there, except for the last week of production, when we shot a little bit in a studio in Paris, where they very faithfully recreated the look and feel of the Catacombs. They needed to build a set for the part where the wall opens up and we go down that tunnel and into the room with the gold, water, and the old corpse. Since, you know, those things don’t actually exist down there. [Laughs.] For the most part, though, we were underground. We’d get down there at 7:30 and then go back above ground at 7:30. We’d missed all of the daylight and miss the most amazing summer in Paris. It’s weird how quickly you get used to it down there, though.
I was just in the Catacombs for about 35-40 minutes, on the tour they gave us, and I definitely didn’t get used to it. I started noticing that we were walking past the same landmarks over and over again. It felt like I was in the movie, and I was never going to get out.
[Laughs.] They really lend themselves so well to this kind of movie, though, don’t they? We could’ve made a movie in which nothing really happens, and the characters are just walking around and exploring the whole space, and it’d still be genuinely terrifying. But for the Dowdles to come up with this premise of going deeper and deeper and deeper, and the only way you can get out is by going further down, was so brilliant. It’s completely terrifying and doesn’t allow for any sort of release and break from the location’s mood and creepiness. Once the characters are in there, the movie never lets up.
It was just our small cast and this little motley crew sliding through things, swimming, and climbing rocks and walls underground. It was nothing I’d ever had the chance to do. It made me feel like such a badass. Eat your heart out, Lara Croft! [Laughs.]
Your character has a name that rivals Lara Croft’s: Scarlett Marlowe. She’s also not unlike Lara Croft in that she’s essentially the new female Indiana Jones. Is a character as strong as her a rarity for you when you’re reading scripts and auditioning?
She’s the most powerful character I’ve ever played or even come across, no question. I love the way she’s able to manipulate people to her own end, but it’s not like she’s a bitch. She cares about these people.
Still, it’s really cool to play a character who has this one, all-important, will-stop-at-nothing-to-achieve-it motive. That’s the only thing that’s driving her, and it never changes throughout the course of the movie. That’s really unusual. It makes all of my decisions as an actress incredibly easy, because I just have to ask myself, “How will this get Scarlett from here to where she ultimately wants to be?” It didn’t blur any lines or make me question anything. That was so liberating for me as an actress. And when things start going horribly wrong for her, her motive then becomes to protect everyone. She knows it’s her responsibility. “I brought them down here, and now I need to get them out.” Which is why when one character in particular dies, it crushes her. She knows she’s the reason why he’s died.
If you think about it, what Scarlett decides to do is completely nuts. It’s insane of her to keep going deeper and deeper into the Catacombs, but it’s her strength of character that keeps you on her side and makes it believable, I think. There’s nothing else for her—this is it. She’s an orphan at this point, so it’s not hard to understand why she’d risk it all in this situation. She has no family or a home, essentially. You can’t yell at the screen and say something like, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you do this to yourself?” In her eyes, there’s nothing she could be doing at this moment in time.
The opening sequence immediately establishes that, with Scarlett putting her life on the line to find clues in a war-torn Iran. Within five minutes of the movie, you understand her. You know she’s not your average movie heroine. You’ve already seen her go through that by the time she enters the Catacombs, so whatever she does down there feels believable. She’s already proven herself to be a fearless, albeit reckless, adventurer.
That first scene was one of the audition scenes, actually. I hadn’t read anything else in the script at that point, but just from those three opening scenes, I thought, wow, this is so great. It felt like a Lara Croft kind of movie and role before I ever got into any of the scary stuff or the supernatural elements.
Scarlett rattles off facts about heady topics like celestial bodies and Copernicus as if she’s casually talking about what’s on a dinner menu. Was that side of the dialogue tough to master?
[Laughs.] I’m more of an art history kind of person, but what’s so great about my job and about a role like this one is that you get to absorb all of this new information. I couldn’t retain all of it, of course, but I love all of that stuff, especially how it’s handled in the script and between Scarlett and George. They need each other to complete these puzzles and gather the complete answers, and that’s why she respects him so much. He, like her, is incredibly intelligent. She knows that he’s just as well read as she is, and that, for her, is a real draw.
In most horror movies of this type, the characters aren’t so well-informed and intelligent—they tend to be normal people who’ve gotten in way over their heads. Scarlett and George, though, are only in over their heads once the supernatural elements come into play. When they’re exploring the Catacombs, they’re qualified to be there. They’re who you’d want down there with you.
Yeah, that’s what makes this film so unusual. There’s more to it than just the horror. In some ways, it’s an ode to Paris’ history, and it’ll work if you’re someone who’s not into horror but loves history and appreciates the same things as Scarlett. She’s someone you’d typically see in an action-adventure. It’s almost as if she’s landed in this crazy, scary horror movie by accident, and she was supposed to be off somewhere else running around with Indiana Jones.
Matt Barone is a Complex senior staff writer who always hated Nintendo's Zelda as a kid. (Sorry, Perdita.) He tweets here.