‘Deep Fear’ Reminds Audiences That Catacombs Belong to the Dead

Stop going spelunking, people. Most of you belong above ground.
Deep Fear

This article is part of our coverage of the 2022 edition of Fantastic Fest, taking place from September 22-29. In this entry, we review the new Grégory Beghin film, Deep Fear. Follow along with our reviews, interviews, and features from the fest in our Fantastic Fest archive.

Horror movies, more than any other genre aside from romantic comedies, serve society as cautionary tales. Don’t go into the basement. Stay out of the woods. Avoid remote cabins. And, for the love of whatever god you believe in, don’t even think about going into the tunnels beneath the street of Paris. Don’t go underground period, really, but both Catacombs (2007) and As Above So Below (2014) make it very clear that entering Parisian catacombs is a guaranteed bad time. Perhaps that’s why Deep Fear is set in the 80s — these poor folks never had the chance to even be warned off by those movies.

Three friends are celebrating graduation with laughs and drinks in the days and nights before they go their separate ways, and their quest for an unforgettable send off lands them in an unlikely place. Sonia (Sofia Lesaffre), Henry (Victor Meutelet), and Max (Kasim Meesters) are a tight group, but it’s an acquaintance named Ramy (Joseph Olivennes) who suggests they join him on a spelunking trip into the catacombs beneath the city’s streets. It’s all fun and claustrophobic games at first, but soon the quartet realize they’re not alone.

Director Grégory Beghin chases his 2020 comedy (Losers Revolution) with a well crafted horror/thriller that stumbles only minorly with its script. The story lacks a fresh voice, but the film still mostly succeeds at delivering tension and thrills unfolding in tight, dimly lit tunnels. Solid performances, gory thrills, and smartly paced tension make for a quick eighty-minutes soured only by a dream sequence that plays like filler and an ending that drops the ball.

Deep Fear introduces the threat of skinhead pricks early on, eyeballing Sonia in a bar and committing atrocities in her dreams, and that real-world danger follows the young people into the darkness underneath the city. It’s a grounded threat that works well to fuel fears, and it’s just an added layer to the terror that already exists in the tunnels. Most are walkable, but more than once our protagonists are tasked with crawling through openings that allow no room for turning around. It’s harrowing stuff, and Beghin and cinematographer Yvan Coene know how to capture and magnify that tension.

Of course, the ultimate threat is something far worse that claustrophobia and street punks. The film maybe tips its hand a bit too early, but Nicolas Tackian‘s script wisely avoids over-explaining its details. Viewers are given more than enough context clues to piece together the story here, and the quick pacing ensures they feel no need for more. Once that monstrous threat reveals itself it becomes a tense and gory nightmare for all involved.

Horror films aren’t always concerned with acting abilities, but Beghin wisely casts Deep Fear with talented performers who can muster emotions and fear without overdoing it or leaving viewers cold. The short running time prevents us from really getting to know these characters, but there’s enough here between the page and performances to understand and appreciate their hope for the future. A future that now looks far, far out of reach. Lesaffre, in particular, engages and catches viewer attention and concern.

Its script stumbles do knock it down some. Dream sequences in horror are almost always a waste of everyone’s time (films about those dreams aside, obviously), and the one here feels like Beghin decided he needed another scene and some added intensity. Rather than work it into the story itself, though, the sequence feels superfluous to Sonia’s real predicament. The ending is a different kind of misfire as it delivers a legitimate cheer-worthy beat only to follow it with a garbage move destined to deflate audiences.

There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but Deep Fear delivers more than enough thrills to occupy its short running time. Once the horrors hit the pacing and momentum kick into overdrive, and the film manages some creepy beats both with jump scares and its increasingly oppressive atmosphere. Give it s spin, stay out of the sewers, and maybe stop watching a few seconds before the credits hit.

Follow all of our Fantastic Fest coverage here.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.