In horror, bodies of water tend to be reserved for creature features or ghost ships, things that fall in line with the theme. To this day, for instance, many consider Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) as the gold standard for underwater terror, with the iconic shark accepted as a legitimate movie monster. Ideas that go against tradition (aquatic monsters, ghost pirates, Cthulhu) are few and far in between.
Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s The Deep House is a rare example of going against the grain to great success. It’s a movie that mixes and matches horror elements to create something that produces scares in a different way. The exercise results in a gruesome haunted house movie shot underwater that’s sure to please fans of all walks of horror fandom.
The Deep House follows Ben (played by James Jagger) and Tina (played by Camille Rowe), a couple that visit haunted places to create content for their streaming video channel. Ben is more invested in this than Tina, but their shared interest leads them to a house found on the bottom of a lake. The place was flooded some years past and the town that was there is now underwater. The house in question is found there, nearly intact.
Bustillo and Maury, the directors behind the brilliant Kandisha (2020) and the fan favorite Inside (2007), approach the story in a kind of hybrid found footage/traditional format that sees the beginning of the movie play out largely from the third person perspective and then switch to found footage camerawork for the underwater part, which is roughly two-thirds of the movie.
Once Ben and Tina dive into the lake to film the house, which ends up having a pretty disturbing backstory, we get three viewing perspectives: the feed from Ben’s Go-Pro, the feed from Tina’s Go-Pro, and the feed from a drone that’s equipped with underwater gear for video capture.
I can’t stress enough how impressive the entire setup is. The film’s expertly shot and the three video sources give the directors a lot of room to play with when conjuring up their deep-water scares. It gives them more shot diversity and allows for greater versatility as they establish the house’s space. Interestingly enough, Bustillo and Maury don’t abuse the drone’s feed. A lot of the house’s exploration is taken from the two main characters’ point of view and it allows for some strong bits of character development.
What’s most impressive is that the camera play doesn’t devolve into mere gimmick. The story is still the driving force here, especially when it comes to pulling back the veil on the darkness that resides in the house. It shows the directors were well-aware of the pitfalls and so they managed to avoid most of them. There are barely any jump scares, but when one pops up it works because it’s achieved on pure storytelling terms and not just for effect. Haunting images abound, but also a sense of mystery that whatever’s in the house reaches into deeper things than we’ll ever be able to see or understand.
Ben and Tina share a curious chemistry that builds on how devoted each one is to the shared video project. There’s a sense Tina is following along in support of her more stubborn and risk-taking partner, which establishes a level of tension that makes itself explicitly known while in the house. The idea that the whole thing could’ve been avoided if the more enthusiastic of the two held back on how far they should reach into the house is ever-present and colors the characters’ interactions throughout.
On the topic of tension, the characters must also keep an eye on their oxygen levels on top of the things that are pursuing them. It’s not rammed into the audience at every turn, but it’s a real worry that gives everything a nerve-wracking sense of urgency.
The Deep House is nothing short of impressive, a twist on the haunted house subgenre that pays off. It’s an example of the rewards that lie in experimentation, in taking risks with well-worn ideas. It’s haunting, disturbing, and unsettling, but what sticks with you after the credits have rolled is the idea that there’s still a fair amount of untapped horror potential to be found underwater, and that we should spend more time trying to find it.
The Deep House is available to watch now via VOD.