Director Gregory Beghin’s Deep Fear combines the cinema of claustrophobia with a heavy dose of new wave Nazisploitation to create an entertaining, if somewhat restrained, horror movie.
Taking place in 1991, Deep Fear centers on four people who eschew the popular public tours and find their way into the fabled catacombs beneath Paris. Their guide, an affable man named Ramy (Joseph Oliviennes), is friendly with a group of people known as “cataphiles,” who have made the subterranean area a second home. Unfortunately, some bad people are down there as well, namely a group of Neo-Nazi skinheads. After a particularly tense encounter with the skins, the four enter a newly discovered area of the catacombs known as the White Zone. In short time, the explorers realize that the White Zone is actually a Nazi bunker, a remnant of World War II. To their despair, they also realize something else is down there with them, and it has a generally nasty disposition.
The entrances into the various chambers are narrow and tight. Beghin’s direction emphasizes the difficulties of traversing through such uncomfortable conditions, the fear and the sweat, the paranoia of being in close quarters. When compared with the giant cathedral-like main areas of the catacombs, it is clear that this world is a land of extremes.
This extremism is reflected in the characters. One one side, you have a group of fun-loving adventurers who like to party, play dance music, and tag the underground with graffiti. One the other hand, there are the Nazis. Make no mistake: Nazis are bad. The lines between good and evil are clearly drawn and there is no mistaking which characters are the villains.
After the bunker is breached, things go off the rails in a bloody fashion. In the style of 1980s slasher movies, most of the deaths take place off-screen, leaving the viewer to use their imagination to fill in the gory bits. There’s just enough blood and guts to please fans of such visual delights while not locking out those who aren’t fans of intensely graphic horror.
In another callback to the 1980s, there is a villain besides the roving gang of skinheads, a Big Bad with a mysterious background and seemingly unlimited strength. Revealing the identity of that killer would give too much away, but they do not get enough screen time. The film waits well into the second act to reveal this character, thereby restricting the killer’s screen time. Unfortunately, this undercuts the character’s impact and itensity. It just becomes one more dreadful annoyance our heroes must contend with.
There is one more villain in Deep Fear, and that is Nazism itself. We meet dreadful characters who adhere to that ideology. We see the terror generated by them in the eyes of main character Sonia (Sofia Lesaffre), who is half-French, half-Algerian. Her mixed heritage makes her a target for the skinheads, who rant about people like her “taking over” the country.
Nazism, with its inherent hatred, discrimination, and violent intent, is the real eternal evil in Deep Fear. While Beghin and writer Nicolas Tackian approach the topic with a heavy hand at some points, their intent is clear and their hearts are in the right place.
Filled with jump scares while lacking the annoying leads that some horror films from the 1980s employed, Deep Fear is an enjoyable movie. It doesn’t break any new ground but treads firmly on previously blazed trails. Owing as much to Neil Marshall as it does to Tommy Wirkola, Deep Fear is a serious journey through the underground of Paris and the dark parts of the soul.
Deep Fear had its Fantastic Fest premiere in Austin, Texas on September 24th.