The beautiful and iconic city of Paris, France is well-known for art, fashion and culture, but beneath the city lies the not so pretty Paris catacombs, a network of tunnels that contain the remains of more than six million people. When basement walls collapsed around the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery, the residents of the cemetery were relocated to the underground catacombs sometime around 1786, and the tunnels were opened to the public in 1809. The 2014 horror film As Above, So Below actually obtained permission from the French authorities to film in the catacombs and tells the terrifying story of an archaeologist and her team who explore the tunnels with deadly results.
Set in Paris in the late eighties, the new Belgian film Deep Fear follows a group of students who decide to celebrate their graduation with a trip to the catacombs. Written by Nicolas Tackian and directed by Grégory Beghin (Losers Revolution), Deep Fear had its World Premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest. The film does an excellent job of bringing the suffocating atmosphere of the catacombs to life, and making the audience feel trapped in the tunnels themselves, as the horrific story unfolds. Ahead of Fantastic Fest, Cinedigm acquired the North American rights to Deep Fear, which will begin streaming on Screambox on November 1st.
Deep Fear follows Sonia (Sofia Lesaffre), Max (Kassim Meesters), and Henry (Victor Meutelet), as they enjoy a night of heavy partying in Paris to celebrate their graduation. Sonia introduces Max and Henry to her friend Ramy (Joseph Olivennes), who considers himself an urban explorer and convinces the group of friends to join him for what he promises will be an unforgettable trip into the Paris catacombs. Hungover and tired, the group reluctantly agrees to follow Ramy underground to explore the catacombs. Ramy has a map that includes an area called the White Zone, which he says has never been explored and he is determined to find it. Once they’re underground, Max confesses to his friends that he suffers from several phobias, including a fear of small spaces, so he’s not happy about being forced to crawl through several very small tunnels to reach their destination.
While they’re making their way through the tunnels, they encounter a group of angry skinheads, who violently attack them. Only then does Ramy casually tell the group the skinheads have been hanging out regularly in the catacombs for years. After walking through water infested with rats, the group encounters some of Ramy’s friends who think they’ve found the mysterious White Zone, including Lamia, who is searching for her brother who disappeared in the catacombs. They’ve been hearing strange sounds coming from the tunnels and eventually find several unusual traps someone set up, and if all that isn’t bad enough, part of the tunnel caves in and the group finds themselves trapped. To make matters even worse, after noticing swastikas on the walls and finding a blood-covered room containing a chest full of weapons, they are mortified to realize the famous White Zone is actually an old German bunker.
The cinematography gives Deep Fear the gloomy atmosphere required for the underground catacombs and skillfully uses close-up shots of the actors’ faces that is both unnerving and claustrophobic and makes the film feel like an interactive experience for the audience. The talented cast makes the fear they’re feeling believable and tangible. We feel like we’re confined in those dark, damp tunnels with the four friends and we desperately want them to find a way out. Once the secret of the undiscovered German bunker is revealed, the film takes a shockingly wild turn for the blood-drenched final act. Deep Fear would make a great companion piece to other subterranean horror films like The Descent and As Above, So Below.
In addition to the convincingly stifling underground atmosphere, Deep Fear boasts terrific, bloody practical effects, and fantastic performances. Some great jump scares and a shocking conclusion, as well as the interactive feeling of the film make Deep Fear a deeply unsettling experience.
Movie Score: 4/5