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Fantastic Fest 2022: Deep Fear Review

September 26, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Deep Fear Image Credit: Black Swan Tales
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Fantastic Fest 2022: Deep Fear Review  

Directed by: Grégory Beghin
Written by: Nicolas Tackian

Sofia Lesaffre – Sonia
Kassim Meesters – Max
Victor Meutelet – Henry
Joseph Olivennes – Ramy
Blaise Afonso – Faust
Olivier Bony – Dante
Léone François-Janssens – Lamia
Philippe Résimont – Lukas

Image Credit: Black Swan Tales

Running Time: 80 minutes

The Paris Catacombs seem like an underused setting in the horror genre. Replete with claustrophic tunnels, low light, the remains of six million-plus people and more, they’re tailor-made to be a great location for a scary movie, and yet I can only think of a handful of movies that use them.

What’s more, the movies we do have haven’t necessarily used the location to its potential. Deep Fear, which is screening at Fantastic Fest 2022, hopes to change that. Grégory Beghin’s movie about a group of friends who find more than they bargain for under the streets of Paris may not hit top-notch highs, but it at least stays entertaining for its stripped-down running time.

After a brief prologue where a tagger in 1989 finds himself snapped up by an unseen danger, Deep Fear jumps ahead two years to center on best friends Sonia (Sofia Lasaffre), Max (Kassim Meesters), and Henry (Victor Meutelet). The three are out partying and trying to enjoy their last few nights together, as Henry is about to enter mandatory military service. Wanting a memorable experience to send Henry off, Sonia enlists another friend of hers named Ramy (Joseph Olivennes), who is a self-professed cataphile – people who explore the Catacombs outside the official tours. After a brief encounter with a group of skinheads who take notice of Sonia’s mixed-race status, they head home and agree to meet up with Ramy the next day.

Once the group enters the Catacombs, things start to get hairy. Being off the beaten path, they’re exploring an area that many people haven’t seen and require squeezing into some tight areas. A meeting with other cataphiles is followed by an encounter with the skinheads, the escape from which leads them to deeper, darker and more dangerous levels of the tunnels. They eventually learn that there’s something much more dangerous down there than a few skinheads with baseball bats, as they try to find their way out and – hopefully – stay alive in the process.

Neither Beghin nor writer Nicolas Tackian are exactly reinventing the wheel here. If you wanted to view the film in the least charitable fashion, you could argue that Deep Fear is a collection of elements taken from other films like The Descent, Green Room, Friday the 13th, and even the Resident Evil franchise. And that’s an absolutely fair thing to say about the film; you can watch the movie and pick out moments lifted from all those films and even a few more that might be a bit too spoilery to mention.

However, it discounts the idea of how effectively the writer and director mine those elements. Beghin is particularly good at taking the tension from The Descent and transposing it onto some of these scenes; I’m not claustrophobic myself, but I started to get uncomfortable at some of the moments as Max or Henry in particular find themselves wiggling through, even before the horror starts to become more apparent. It’s the same with the other elements; while they all feel very familiar, they’re executed well enough for the film to remain entertaining and appropriately creepy.

It also helps that Beghin has cast a solid quartet of leads. All four actors play their roles quite well, softening the edges of what would be the kinds of characters we’d hate in a found footage film. Lesaffre in particular turns in a memorable role as Sonia, and the dynamic between her, Meesters and Meutelet feels authentic and real. Olivennes is given perhaps the hardest role to like, but he acquits himself well and the four are able to keep things running smoothly when the story lags.

And really, lag is the only major problem here. Beghin takes his time getting his protagonists into particularly scary situations; the film ventures through the motions of getting lost in the Catacombs and the like before an active threat shows up. By the time the film’s plot twist arrives, it feels like the movie has been spinning its wheels for just a bit. Fortunately things get wild (and fun) from there, even if there is a minor element of having seen this sort of thing before.

All of that would be much more of a problem if Beghin didn’t keep his film lean and mean, clocking in at 80 minutes. It’s hard to be too mad at a movie that takes a good portion of its running time getting to the horror when even the movie runs under an hour and a half. And even in the slower build, there’s a lot to enjoy thanks to impressive camera work from Yvan Coene and a production design that is always interesting. And once those bloody effects come, they’re delightfully practical and well done, adding a final veneer of cool to a tensely-entertaining ride.

Fantastic Fest takes place in person from September 22nd through the 29th, and @Home from September 29th through October 4th.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Deep Fear is far from the most original horror film in recent memory. That said, the combination of solid performances, a tight running time, and effective execution of those familiar tropes make it quite entertaining. Grégory Beghin does good work behind the camera and Sofia Lesaffre capably leads the cast to make a film that, even if it doesn't stick in your memory for a long time, should keep you entertained until the credits roll.