When the arcane engraving on the door translates as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” you should know enough not to go in unless you’ve got a pretty good guide. And if you have a PhD in symbology, speak four living languages and two dead ones, and have a black belt in some hip martial art, you should at least know that the quote is from Dante and not a “mythical inscription.” Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon certainly would have.
But not the polymathic Scarlett, played by Perdita Weeks, whose gung-ho performance is the best reason to watch this exercise in mumbo-jumbo, bogus thrills, and vertiginous photography. As a cryptic thriller it is more “Da Vinci Code” than “Divine Comedy,” a combination of video game and Indiana Jones Adventure ride. And, needless to say, it’s another found-footage horror film.
Benji (Edwin Hodge) provides the footage; he’s making a documentary about Scarlett and her determination to fulfill her dead father’s obsession to find the Ark of the . . . or rather, the Philosopher’s Stone. After a prologue in an Iran cave, where she finds a pagan relic, she asks her friend George (Ben Feldman) to translate some inscriptions written in Aramaic (that class probably conflicted with her Advanced Alchemy seminar). These direct her to the Paris Catacombs, so she puts together a crew that includes the speluncaphobic George, Benji, ace urban explorer Papillon (François Civil), and
some other people needed to pad the body count.
It seems like an absorbing History Channel program until they pass a chamber full of topless women singing György Ligeti’s “Drei Phantasien Nach Friedrich Hölderlin” and start bumping into specters from their guilt-ridden past. They go in circles, see dead people, a telephone rings, up and down become interchangeable, and gargoyles and Grim Reapers pop up to do bad things that are blurred by the handheld camerawork so you can’t see how crummy the special effects are.
Is this hell? Is it purgatory? Is it an exercise in derivative mind games? Abandon all hope of recovering these 93 minutes of your life, ye who enter here.