The Dispiriting Time Capsule of ‘Deep Fear’
Fantastic Fest @ Home @ celluloid consommé
Deep Fear, dir. Grégory Beghin
Horror surrounding the exploration of underground caverns will always appeal to me. In 2005 I went to see The Descent knowing next to nothing about it and found just how much the terror of uncharted subterranean spaces affected me. It’s a movie that has certainly made an impression on countless moviegoers and horror fanatics. It’s no question Deep Fear has been touched by Neil Marshall’s influence of spooky spelunking but there’s a different feel to it here. Where Descent felt it was of its time in the horror trends of the 2000s it also lent a psychological torment that haunted its characters, even before they find the entry point into the depths below. Always just below the surface, unspoken but felt by paying close attention to each woman’s expressions and reactions, their histories and journeys were felt but not explained.
There is an attempt to replicate the feeling of this in Deep Fear. But it competes with too many male insecurities to feel genuine enough to really want to explore the torment the women of the film go through. Grégory Beghin seems to want to put his audience in Sonia’s perspective as her group runs into neo-nazis in the tunnels below Paris. The group she’s traveling with are too preoccupied with their own discomfort to extend recognition to Sonia’s gender- and race-specific harassment by the group of fascists they cross paths with. Given the situation they find themselves in, lost underground without the guarantee of knowing what’s behind the next corner, this is understandable. It fails Sonia by starting the process of committing to her history and fears but pulls back, denying her of an arc or any real growth, opting to focus on the group in the moment more instead. Another character whom we meet in the caverns, Lamia, is looking for her brother who has disappeared and was last seen going into the very site she and Sonia’s party have entered.
Deep Fear feels like it came from a different era in horror. Closer to the 2000s in fact, during the time The Descent was fresh and home video labels like Dimension Extreme saw numerous New French Extremity horror releases in the US. The film guards its secret well, though, much like Descent did. But as the film revels in the reveal, the excitement and gusto accelerates through its crescendo to unveil something that would have been more effective in those early 2000s. It instead lands in front of a deflated audience at its alotted portion of the movie. Once this unknown element is revealed, it becomes a far less interesting or compelling method of tension for us to hope Sonia and her friends survive. Perhaps it’s too close to the threat of nazis wandering in the darkness or the sheer unoriginality of its concept, already overdone by the 2010s. But even at the movie’s core it wants Sonia to outlast the horrors that threaten her life, yet it ends up betraying her in much the same way it does Lamia, and just as distastefully. Maybe Deep Fear would’ve felt a little more thrilling had it been done 20 years prior, but even then it could’ve gotten lost in the glut of direct-to-video ripoff trends attempting to replicate the success of those that came before.