Tight, enclosed spaces generally make for fertile ground for claustrophobic scares in horror. The Descent, Devil, As Above, So Below, and 10 Cloverfield Lane all work, in part, because their characters have nowhere to go. Given its history and purpose, the Catacombs of Paris – a burial site for reportedly more than six million people – sounds like the ‘ideal’ horror movie setting. In fact, found-footage thriller As Above, So Below exploited the locale, making it the first feature film to get permission to film in some of the catacombs’ restricted areas. Now Grégory Beghin’s Belgian thriller Deep Fear brings horror fans back to the Catacombs, promising a mix of claustrophobic chills and Nazi terror.
It’s 1991 Paris and three friends – Sonia, Max, and Henry – want one last adventure together before Henry enters into military service. When the trio bump into Sonia’s friend, Ramy, he offers to take them on a trip into the Catacombs of Paris. But when the group runs afoul of neo-Nazi punks, they escape deeper into the catacombs with nowhere else to go but down. And somewhere in the bowels of the catacombs, something else is waiting for them.
Deep Fear Ends Just As It Finds Its Own Footing
Maybe the first thing that jumps out about Deep Fear is just how familiar it all feels. Regardless of its 1990s setting, horror fans may likely draw immediate comparisons to As Above, So Below – another horror movie set in the Paris Catacombs. Maybe its time period calls back to a unique cultural history. But it’s likely a story bit that will be lost on most viewers. And it does little to set the move apart from other horror movies it seems to draw on. Director Gregory Beghin certainly sets his own tone while methodically pacing itself to a reasonably satisfying finale. Nonetheless, Deep Fear instantly recalls As Above, So Below along with several horror movies that relied heavily on claustrophobic settings. Familiarly itself isn’t ultimately this thriller’s undoing. What hurts this French thriller is that it reminds you of much better movies.
Familiarly itself isn’t ultimately this thriller’s undoing. What hurts this French thriller is that it reminds you of much better movies.
Amongst its largely effective build-up, writer Nicolas Tackian introduces a few story threats that ultimately go unrewarded. Still Beghin finds some momentum deep in the catacombs as the trio discovers the nightmare waiting for them. Though it’s not really zombie Nazi waiting down below – that’s been done before – any Nazi would be scary. And Deep Fear finds momentum and its best shocks once it hits this third act. Unfortunately, Beghin makes the same mistake as a handful of recent movies. A lot of build up that ends just as things get going. This abruptness undoes much of the good will Deep Fear generates from at least half of a good finale.
Deep Fear Boasts Technical Merits While Treading Familiar Ground
In addition to overlaps in subject and setting, Deep Fear treads on some familiar thematic ground. On one hand, horror has often drawn on Nazis for antagonists from Isla, She-Wolf of the SS to Shock Waves to Dead Snow. Just last year, French-Italian horror movie The Bunker Game mixed the supernatural with Nazi lore for middling scares. Though it’s set in the early 90s, Tackian’s screenplay introduces timely concerns with the sort of extremism that has seen a rise in populist politics across Europe and North America. Yet it’s hardly even the first French horror movie to explore this sort of extremism. Xavier Gens’ (The Crucifixion) New French Extremity entry, Frontier(s), pitted young French Arabs against Nazi cannibals. None of this is to suggest that Deep Fear is derivative – it’s not. However, a lot of familiarity serves to undermine the thrills generated by the claustrophobic setting.
…familiarity serves to undermine the thrills generated by the claustrophobic setting.
In terms of technical merits, Deep Fear is an absolutely well-made movie. Beghin’s confident direction plays well alongside some excellent cinematography. Deep Fear perfectly exploits its gloomy setting, ensuring an air of modest tension. Moreover, the practical gore effects impress enough that you’re likely going to wish that third act had extended longer. All of the performances are strong even if the characters feel a bit undercooked. At the very least, you should like the central trio enough to care about their fates.
Deep Fear Has Surface Scares, But Doesn’t Offer Up Much New
Though it’s an inherently watchable horror movie, nothing about Deep Fear stands out as fresh or particularly scary. Not surprisingly, the scenes set in the Paris catacombs boast some tense moments of claustrophobia. But The Descent did claustrophobic horror much better. And the horror genre has offered up plenty of Nazi monsters from Dead Snow to Overlord. Then there’s As Above, So Below, which also sets its action in the Catacombs of Paris. Herein lies the problem with Deep Fear – it constantly recalls much better movies. It also doesn’t help that the movie ends just as it’s getting good.