Like a meme, I absolutely said “sign me up” out loud after first reading about The Deep House many months ago. In a genre like horror where unique and groundbreaking stories are as common as those that rehash and try reinventing the wheel, the prospect of a haunted house movie taking place solely underwater was exciting and fresh. It seemed like your typical B-horror fare with a fun edge that had never been brought to screen before. There are several aquatic nightmare films out there, but nothing has been done like The Deep House yet. It felt like the harbinger of things to come, a fun resurgence of gritty lower budget horror flicks that have the adrenaline and the delightfully tacky elements all in one. It didn’t quite end up being that, but it didn’t quite end up being a total disappointment either.
Writer/directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s film follows YouTuber couple Ben (James Jagger) and Tina (Camille Rowe), who are trying to make a name for themselves by exploring the world’s most dangerous and scary locales and filming it for their subscribers. Typical 2021 couple behavior. When a particularly exciting location prospect falls through in France, the pair end up visiting a secret and isolated branch of a lake in a forest, which was artificially submerged to prevent devastating floods. Below the surface, a perfectly preserved house sits at the bottom of the lake, which is nothing short of a goldmine for the creators who are in a content crunch after their previous dud. But under the waters lie more than just clicks and views—there’s something haunted down there, and it isn’t going to let them swim back to the surface without a fight.
See what I’m saying about doing something a bit different? Maury and Bustillo knew what they had at their fingertips—the prospect of a cool underwater haunted house chiller that had never quite been seen before in this way—and used that to their advantage. The film plays up the haunted house aspects, and the surrounding elements (i.e., water) make it all the more freaky to follow. The movie also employs the fun and eerie use of underwater spectral elements, which could have been tacky but were pretty scary antagonist presences; it’s weirdly frightening to watch a ghost glide through water, to watch them swim. There’s even a fish jumpscare, which seems lame on paper, but ended up coming off as a meta and effective play on an age-old tactic. And of course, there’s the whole thing with only having so much oxygen. That’s pretty high stakes, too. Speaking of how the film dips into meta territory to reflect the conventions of its haunted house setting, it’s clear the filmmakers were cognizant of the advantages of using that tool in other aspects of the piece, including within the influencer/vlogger storyline. Ben makes note of the fish jumpscare moment and makes sure Tina got it on camera, because that stuff gets views, he says. It’s all very there in the script, that tacky influencer vibe almost like last year’s screenlife horror Spree, but it comes off in a way that shows the insistence, eagerness and desperation in most content creators today.
That leads me to the lead characters and performances, which are probably my biggest gripe: Jagger and Rowe certainly make a believable and beautiful influencer couple, but they aren’t exactly the most charismatic and likable leads. Jagger’s Ben is just a touch away from insufferable, to the point where it became hard to deal with his lines at times…you know, until the horrorshow really started kicking in. There are definitely writing tactics at play here—remember, we’re going for a meta influencer duo—but the actor is maybe too good at being a douche, which puts a bad taste in my mouth. As for Rowe, Tina’s a far cry from insufferable—but she doesn’t exactly stand out either. I’m actually a fan of hers from her early modeling days, and it felt like they cast her in this film to play herself. Both off-screen and in this flick, she very much embodies the effortless “cool girl,” one who is nice, kind and funny, and one who breaks out into French every now and then. She’s a worthy lead—certainly more worthy than Jagger and with more genuine charisma—but she doesn’t bring anything exciting to the table. It’s pretty clear she isn’t being challenged in a role like this and I’d love to see her in more things that give her some meat to sink her teeth into (whereas I’m cool with Jagger staying off-screen for the foreseeable future). Something tells me she would rise to the occasion: Some strong acting tries to burst free from the confines inside her, she just needs material that truly forces her to make bold choices.
But I don’t think their performances completely bring the film down, not at all. There’s a particular twist toward the end that makes for one of those “shit list” endings that are a bit of a bummer after everything you’ve just watched (one that I won’t spoil), and depending on who you ask, that might bring the film down. After having my initial reaction, I realized that, for me, the ending didn’t take away from the movie’s fresh concept. It really does coast on its unique premise and its ability to really, pun intended, splash around in the water. Hell, Rowe and Jagger underwent hardcore training to actually shoot a lot of the film underwater. Their abilities and confidence underwater aren’t absent in the film and it sells the concept on top of smart scares and an unapologetic lean into the gimmick. It’s clear the filmmakers wanted to go the extra mile and really live and breathe (or not breathe, depending on if you’re on land or what) this concept—and it mostly succeeds, at least where having fun is concerned. Sometimes, that can be overkill, but with this, it served a purpose and served it well. And, honestly, good for them for leaning in. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and, thus, it makes for a fairly entertaining movie night despite its flaws—just don’t expect anything more than your typical B-horror fare.
Directors: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Writers: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo, Julien David, Rachel Parker
Stars: Camille Rowe, James Jagger, Eric Savin
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.