Scarlett (played by actress Perdita Weeks) is a young, beautiful, and highly educated archaeologist, who is driven to complete her deceased father’s work of finding the philosopher’s stone of Nicolas Flamel. Flamel, according to the film, was a medieval French alchemist who succeeded in creating a stone that would turn base metal into gold. Before his death, he left a series of hints and puzzles on his tombstone with instructions for finding where the stone was buried. With the aid of George (Ben Feldman), a friend who is fluent in ancient Aramaic, Scarlett determines that the stone has been hidden in a secret chamber in the catacombs under Paris. She organizes a party of explorers to journey through the catacombs with her in search of the buried treasure. As the party descends into the dark and labyrinthine underworld, they encounter a series of increasingly frightening and bizarre sounds and images, as they are forced ever downward into the depths of the earth…
With a late August release date and very little fanfare, my expectations going into this movie were exceedingly low. Having suffered through my share of mediocre, grade-B horror films recently, it was with much trepidation that I made my way into the theatre. Perhaps it was partially due to my lowered expectation, but once the film began I found myself pleasantly surprised. While I don’t see this becoming any sort of a genre classic, it’s not an altogether bad little horror movie. A bit goofy, yes, with a cast of French-speaking characters that all choose to speak with each other in heavily accented English.
The story is not always explained as fully as one might hope and character development is somewhat minimal. However, the film uses its setting to good effect and builds an ever-increasing sense of claustrophobia, as the characters are drawn further down narrow passageways into the bowels of the earth. The film makes good use of sound to create an unsettling atmosphere, and has a fairly good sense in terms of showing the right amount of eerie imagery without showing too much. It’s not always effective, but overall I thought it was fun and that it had some moments that were genuinely haunting.
It is yet another “found footage” horror movie, and both the benefits and drawbacks of the medium are evident. At times it contributes something of an “organic” feel to the suspense, at others it comes off cheap and amateurish. On the whole I didn’t have a problem with it, but the Paris catacombs were a unique setting for a horror film and it would have been interesting to see what a professionally shot picture would have looked like.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It’s not a masterpiece of terror and suspense, but it does take place in an interesting a setting, it effectively builds a sense of growing claustrophobia and confusion, and it makes good use of sound and atmosphere. This one isn’t going to be for everyone, but I recommend it to those who like good old fashioned-style horror movie fun.