The Deep House [Grimmfest Review]: An Underwater Haunting
Everyone who loves Horror movies has a particular sub-genre, or a certain trope, that they are fully aware will make their skin crawl or put them on edge. For some it’s the gruesome antics of Torture Porn, for others it’s the unknowable terror of outer space or alien creatures, and for me it’s the sinking darkness of underwater settings. There’s something about the inescapable crushing depths of any body of water that instantly has my heart doubling speed before anything ‘horrific’ has even happened within the narrative. This meant that the French film, The Deep House, had me white knuckling my arm rests before its true haunting story even kicked in, and when it did kick in I was caught, hook, line and sinker.
Ben (James Jagger) and his girlfriend Tina (Camille Rowe) are a modern couple who have modern dreams, or at least Ben does. He wants to become a famous YouTube vlogger couple and earn that coveted one million views on their urban exploration videos. He seems to be the mastermind behind these ideas, creeping up on his girlfriend in abandoned Ukrainian asylums to give the audience the jump scares they need to get good viewing figures, and giving History lessons about the areas they are exploring to keep his degree relevant. His determination is clear, and he wants to succeed amongst the stiff competition of ‘tourist dickheads with a GoPro’. This leads the loving couple to south-west France, seeking out a submerged sanatorium but finding it only to be a tourist trap. Luckily for them a mysterious stranger named Pierre knows of another location that has a perfectly preserved mansion awaiting them on its lake bed.
“Combining this classic set design with the floating aquatic horrors of being trapped underwater with a limited oxygen supply and no easy escape route creates a recipe for sheer claustrophobic terror.”
Fuelled by his desire to be YouTube famous Ben convinces Tina to hop in the van with Piere and head towards the Chanteloup forest and the lake that lies just beyond it. After walking the last few miles by foot, something most genre fans will recognise instantly as a bad sign, they reach the water’s edge and begin to prepare for their submersion, leaving Pierre to make his own way back to town. A few metres down, and they locate a staircase that will lead them to their fortune, or more accurately a large foreboding mansion with a dedicated mausoleum that would be creepy even if it wasn’t submerged in the depths of murky green water. As their exploration begins it becomes clear they will come to regret not eating their chips, drinking their wine and staying as tourists.
Followed by their relatively trusty drone, ‘Peeping Tom’, the couple explore this underwater haunted mansion. The set has all the familiar touches expected from this genre of film, old paintings, disturbing taxidermy, scratched up doors and ominous sounds and shadows that seem to flit in and out of focus throughout their investigation. Despite submerging in the 80s the house seems oddly preserved, creepy dolls and a larger than life Jesus statue kept in the kitchen show no sign of water damage. Combining this classic set design with the floating aquatic horrors of being trapped underwater with a limited oxygen supply and no easy escape route creates a recipe for sheer claustrophobic terror.
As the couple tours the frozen in time mansion they seem to uncover more and more unsettling features that give us an insight into the previous home-owners, and our two leads themselves. Tina is jumpy throughout, her fear palpable and, in my opinion, completely justified. Ben, however, is the one who ignores the warning signs, knowing that the creepier the footage they take back the higher the view counter will climb. Jagger and Rowe do a great job at managing to emote through diving equipment with frantic dialogue and bulging eyes behind their diving masks. The rest of the cast, a small ensemble probably due to the intricacies of working underwater for this shoot, are also incredible. The ghouls that haunt this house are spectacular to watch, moving through the gloomy waters like synchronised dancers with such an eerie ease that it makes them more haunting than they could ever be above ground.
Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s names stood out to me from the Grimmfest Film Festival listing, having seen and loved their French Extremity film Inside and being a fan of the anthology segment, ‘X if for Xylophone’ they contributed to ABC’s of Death 2, I had to book in for this latest venture. As the writers and directors of this underwater Horror, Maury and Bustillo do a great job of bringing tension to the exploration scenes and setting up believably flawed but loveable characters whose fates the audience will genuinely care about. Wrapped up with their signature bleak but beautiful ending this is a fresh take on the haunted house sub-genre that oozes with tension and showcases incredible technical skill. If scuba diving was ever on your bucket list it just might be getting deleted after watching this.