REVIEW: The Deep House (2021)

dir. Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury

A couple of social media influencers (Camille Rowe and James Jagger) travel to abandoned buildings to film content in their never-ending pursuit of clicks and subscribers. As an early sequence shows – where they explore an old sanitorium – their footage verges on the macabre, catering to an audience (and perhaps a subversive streak within themselves) that likes to spook and be spooked. So when a local man in rural France tells them of a house submerged at the bottom of a nearby lake, it seems like the kind of gig which might finally break them into the big time.

It’s a fabulous premise, merging the haunted-house and sub-aquatic horror genres, with directors Bustillo and Maury drawing on the tropes from both: early scenes where our protagonists dive down to be greeted by the gothic mansion rearing out of the murk are impressively chilling. There’s also the compound success of combining a fear of gothic spaces, depleted oxygen tanks and our inability to move swiftly underwater, with a genuine sense of unease as they enter the building and start going room to room, discovering secrets that have long been buried.

Unfortunately these moments are off-set considerably by stilted performance work from Jagger, who’s character comes across as unlikeable, unemotive and – particularly in the third act – frustratingly one-note. Similarly there is some confusion in the visual language: the film flips between found-footage and more conventional cinematic shots before returning to in-world footage once again. Much like Romero’s Diary of the Dead, this lack of consistency with visual rules is disorientating and undercuts the atmosphere, breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Despite this as things escalate, air cannisters run low and escape becomes the priority there are some suitably bone-chilling moments that effectively riff on classics such as The Blair Witch Project. It is unfortunately not enough however to fulfil the promise of the central conceit, the film ultimately struggling to swim.

⭐⭐

Tim Coleman

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