The Deep House Review: The Directors Of Inside Revitalize The Haunted House Movie By Sinking It Underwater

How do you make a haunted house movie seem fresh? "The Deep House" has a suggestion: sink it underwater. The new film from "Inside" filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury is a waterlogged spook show, transferring familiar haunted house tropes to an aquatic setting, a decision that makes the overly familiar feel new again. From a technical standpoint alone, what the filmmakers and cinematographer Jacques Ballard have created here is nothing short of remarkable. The underwater imagery is incredibly haunting; eerie in its unnaturalness, and crushingly claustrophobic. What would seem like open-air freedom in a traditional haunted house flick is here a thick, secluded space that characters can't simply run through. They have to swim, and you can only swim so fast. And just to make things extra unpleasant, the characters only have a limited supply of air. If the soggy ghouls don't get them, oxygen deprivation just might. 

A great location can make or break your movie. Watching "The Deep House," I was reminded of Herk Harvey's classic chiller "Carnival of Souls." Not because the two films are anything alike, but because Harvey, operating on a minuscule budget, was able to use an abandoned carnival pavilion to create one of the most memorable horror movies ever made. The conclusion: if your setting is successful, you're already on your way towards something memorable. "The Deep House" has more money to play around with, but the principle is the same: location, location, location. If you dropped "The Deep House" on land it would likely lose most, if not all, of its power. It would be a been there, done that kind of horror movie. It might still give you the creeps, but you'd walk away non-plussed. Indeed, once you start to look beyond the fantastic underwater setting you begin to realize how simplistic "The Deep House" is. It's as if Bustillo and Maury have pulled a fast one on us. But we don't mind in the end, because you can't argue with results. 

A Deep Dive Into Danger

Ben (James Jagger, son of Mick) and Tina (Camille Rowe) are YouTubers who specialize in spooky places. We first meet them as they navigate dry land, looking for allegedly haunted locations. And then the duo learns of someplace new: a sanatorium submerged in an artificial lake in France. It sounds too good to be true. And it is, because once our pair of video explorers show up at the spot they're meant to dive, they find it's an overcrowded tourist attraction, thus ruining their plans to get some good underwater footage. But Ben, who clearly seems to be into the whole YouTube channel idea more than Tina, won't give up so easily. A local (Éric Savin) tells them of a more secretive location with another artificially submerged location that has a sunken mansion, untouched and unfound. 

Now, you or I may think twice about following a complete stranger in a foreign country to a secluded spot. But Ben really wants those YouTube hits! So off they go, strapping on their diving gear and plunging into the murky depths. The out-of-water stuff is fine, but it's when our two ghost hunters sink themselves below the surface that "The Deep House" really comes to life. The imagery here — a sunken car, a locked gate that the couple swims over, and the sprawling mansion itself — is bathed in cloudy blue-green light, lending a chilly, drenched atmosphere. The inherent shadows of underwater darkness lend an instant touch of menace, and when the couple swims up to an open attic window of the mansion to enter, we're immediately uneasy. And with good reason. 

Beware of Fish Jumpscares

The mansion was supposedly submerged sometime in the 1980s, but Ben and Tina find it in oddly great shape (aside from the whole underwater thing). Objects inside the house, like furniture and books, should've deteriorated over the years — but everything remains perfectly intact, as if untouched by the years of waterlogged desecration. Tina begins to have bad vibes, but Ben wants to stick around. The filmmakers have some fun with all of this — they even give us a fish jumpscare. It's silly, but effective, and made all the more memorable by the fact that Ben goes ahead and points out what we (and his presumed YouTube watchers) have just seen. "Jump scares get the maximum likes!" he proclaims. Later, when a creepy doll floats by, he comments: "Creepy dolls always work." Bustillo and Maury are both parodying and embracing familiar formulas, cleverly lulling us into a sense of complacency. We think we know what's coming. And yet, even if our suspicions are warranted, the way things unfold feels surprisingly innovative, all because of that drowned setting. 

Eventually, genuine frights begin, with ghostly figures slowly moving about with wide-open eyes; there's something genuinely unnerving about watching a dead person slowly walking around underwater, let me tell you. These bone-deep terrors go a long way toward alleviating the fact that our two leads are duller than dishwater. And just to make things extra frustrating, Jagger's performance as Ben is grating. To be fair, the character is clearly supposed to be kind of a dope; the type of horror movie character who ignores all the warnings and jumps (or rather, swims) headfirst into danger. Still, Ben's constant asides, where he tries to justify why he keeps sticking around the haunted underwater house, are weak and a tad whiny. 

But gosh, is "The Deep House" effective. The way the filmmakers use their underwater setting is brilliant, and while there's not a whole lot of story here, they make every moment count. Every second these characters spend underwater ratchets up the tension, and the ticking clock element of their rapidly depleting oxygen only adds to the experience. Is it all too simple? Maybe. But sometimes, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. And while you may have seen the types of scares "The Deep House" offers in other haunted house flicks, you've never seen them rendered like this. So dive in. If you dare. 

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10