‘The Deep House’ Directors Were Influenced By This Iconic Found Footage Film
They also discuss the challenges of filming underwater.
Director duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo are responsible for some of horror’s nastiest films. Their feature film debut Inside, all about a woman trying to steal a baby out of another woman’s womb, is a stand out from the New French Extremity movement. They aren’t afraid of gore and taboo topics, never tethered to one technique or subgenre. Now, they’re taking on found footage with their latest film, The Deep House.
We were able to sit down with Maury and Bustillo to talk about the challenges of filming underwater, constructing their set, and how they got the ghosts in The Deep House to look so damn scary.
Dread Central: The Deep House is obviously very complicatedly shot. I’d love to hear more about the process of filming this almost completely underwater, and what that was like for you, to both conceive of this and execute on it.
Julien Maury: The thing is that since the beginning of this project, the moment we had the idea, we wanted to do it in real condition. We wanted to do it for real because otherwise, it wasn’t very interesting for us, as directors, to shoot only in front of a green screen and use the technique called dry for wet. It’s the classical, typical way of shooting underwater sequence like you are in front of a green screen and you shoot in slow-mo, and you just have to add in CGI fake hair and move slowly. And it’s like in The Shape of Water, the Guillermo del Toro movie, or in Aquaman, or this type of big budget.
But here, we were really excited by the challenge of doing The Deep House for real, and we said, “Okay, let’s try to really do it.” It’s the whole purpose. We always have had this feeling that underwater sequences are really strong, and we were, with Alex, always fascinated by underwater sequences in movies. Like in Inferno, for example, and the way the fabrics move underwater, it gives an eerie aspect and a very dreamlike mood to any kind of sequence.
And we also had another influence that was Neil Jordan’s In Dreams, because you have this opening sequence taking place in a submerged town, village, and you have these divers moving around houses and in front of the church, and getting into a restaurant through the windows. We were fascinated by this stuck-in-time aspect, with all the furniture and everything. It was like a picture of the life before.
This was what we wanted to give to the audience with The Deep House, this feeling of anxiety because it’s not our element, and the water, everything is much scarier, and also, at the same time, the feeling of magic. And so we were lucky enough to find a producer as crazy as we are.
How long did it take to find someone, a producer to support the project?
Alexandre Bustillo: Five minutes.
AB: And it’s true, Mary Beth, for real. It’s a true story, because with Julien, when we found the concept [for The Deep House], it was maybe on Monday. The day after we called Clement Miserez, our producer. We knew him, of course, and we just tell him, “Clement, we have a crazy idea. It’s just a high concept now, but we are sure that it could be a great movie, and it’s just a haunted house, an underwater haunted house, and just that.” And Clement told us, “Guys, I love this idea, so let’s do it.”
So we were very, very lucky. We didn’t have to find a producer during a lot of months. It’s a hard process to find someone in France, especially in France to do horror movies. And underwater horror movies is more maybe a new challenge, so we were very, very lucky to find Clement, because Clement is maybe the most American French producer.
I say that because Clement can… If he loves the idea, he starts immediately. Because in France, we are very careful and we move carefully. “Oh yeah, and horror movies, complicated in France, underwater movies, you are crazy guys, so maybe we have to take time to think about it.” And with Clement, it’s the opposite. “Ah, I love this, let’s go.” So, wow, we were very, very lucky.
That’s incredible. And so you talked about conceiving of the film, so how exactly did you guys come up with the idea? Because it’s pretty genius, haunted house underwater. I feel like when everyone heard about the idea, the internet, they were like, “This is the coolest idea ever,” and myself included. So where did the kind of idea come from for you guys?
AB: From work. Because with Julien we love working in cities in general. We were in Paris working on the streets. And every time we work, we are challenging each other with crazy ideas, like tennis, guys with a ball. It’s “I’ve got an idea, Alex, I’ve got an idea.” “Yeah, yeah, speak about it.”
And like Julien said, we are absolutely in love with underwater sequences in movies in general, and especially Inferno and In Dreams, of course, and we are totally in love with hunted house movies. We love this genre. And we were talking and just we love underwater sequences in movies, we love hunted house movies, maybe we can do a crossover between these two ideas, and the concept was born, simply like that. “Oh yes, an underwater haunted house, underwater haunted house story. And so the image, at least the title came. “And it’s a deep house, yes. Wow, fantastic.” And it was so simple like that, really. So simply like that, really.
I love that, that’s amazing. And so you also use found footage techniques in The Deep House. I wanted to hear a little bit more from you guys about why you wanted to opt for using those found footage kind of techniques, versus just the kind of regular way you would shoot a horror film.
JM: The thing is that first of all we love this subgenre. Found footage brings something very real. Since the beginning, we thought it would bring energy, and the fact that we were going to be underwater almost all along, we knew that we would avoid the shaky cam aspect of the found footage. Because underwater, everything is slower and every movement takes more time. But what convinced us was that the budget wasn’t so high, and we couldn’t shoot this movie in a regular way.
Because everything, as I said, is taking much more time underwater, like almost three times longer than during a regular shoot. So as soon as you have to change something, you have to move a light, to move a piece of the set, you have to give information to your cast. They have to go out of the water, you have to make a meeting with everyone, “And so, okay, everyone knows what to do? Okay, let’s go down in the water.” And so it would have been a real mess, and we didn’t have the budget for that.
So we really quickly decided that it was the way to do it because we knew that having the cameras on the actors, and we would be able to shoot much more than in a regular way. And then came the idea of the drone. That was, for us, a way to give the geographical position for the audience not to be lost, because the found footage sometimes can be disturbing. You don’t know where you are, and all the shots look the same. The drone gave us the opportunity to have wide cam shots, just to see where our characters are and where they are adding to, and so it was a mix of an artistic decision and a technical one.
AB: Because you must know, Mary Beth, that one of our other references on this movie was [REC].
Oh, I love that movie, that movie’s incredible.
AB: Yeah, and we love [REC] too, of course, and our first idea was to imagine an underwater [REC]. So [REC], in its found footage, of course, aspect, was one of our references [for The Deep House].
Oh, that’s so incredible, I love that. I also got a little bit of Blair Witch in watching this, too.
AB: Of course.
Of course. I’m a big found footage person, so I was very excited that this was both an underwater aquatic core haunted house found footage movie. It was like all of my interests coming together into one film, which was very exciting. So did everyone have to get SCUBA cert-
JM: And your favorite directors too, huh?
Well, we’ll get to that, actually. I have a story for you, a little bit about Inside in a second, but did you all have to get SCUBA certified to do all of this? Was that process crazy to get everyone ready to work underwater all the time?
JM: The thing is that to be able to hold all the cameras running at the same time, we needed to be on the surface. And underwater, we would have been not useful at all. The thing is that we were, of course, surrounded with very… How can I say? Very professional divers, and the work crew was underwater, and we were under surface, checking on the monitors. We had all the cameras running at the same time, so one of the challenge was to, at the same time, to check on the frames. So we were giving information to our actors, like, “Okay, chin up, chin down, move your head, tilt on the left, tilt on the right,” because they were operators. And at the same time, giving our information, in terms of acting.
We had two microphones, and one was for the wall technical crew, for the wall water tank, through underwater speakers, and the second microphone was just for the headsets into the actors’ masks. And so this one was for the [infromation] I just said.
That makes a lot of sense. So, okay, I do want to say that your film Inside was the film that got me into both writing about horror and back into gory horror. My professor in my horror film class in college showed us your film, and it opened my eyes to French horror, to the possibility of horror films, and so I was really excited to chat with you today, both because of The Deep House, but Inside kind of changed my perspective on the horror genre. So I just wanted to ask you guys about Inside really quick, and what it’s been like to make that insanely brutal film, and kind of move on from what that film did, I think, for the horror genre. In my eyes, at least.
JM: First of all, your teacher has very good taste, but he could go to jail for that, no?
AB: Yeah. How old were you, Mary Beth?
AB: Oh, it’s okay, 19.
So I was an adult, kind of.
JM: Kind of. No, the thing is that it’s always funny to have this kind of feedback for us, because the perception of Inside was radically different in France than abroad. But I mean it, like radically. In France, there was-
JM: No, but not reject, because we went to Cannes Film Festival with it, but in terms of the audience, it was like, “Okay, we don’t care.” And as soon as we went to the US or North America, or in every other country, it totally blew our mind, because we were like, “Oh, okay, this movie has an impact on people.” Because in France it was… We are in a country of comedies and cinema that is not made to entertain, except for comedies. And so we were really excited and fascinated by the fact that, regarding the different countries or culture, the movie could have a different impact, and we are really happy about that and really proud of it.
So yeah, it’s really satisfying, in a way. And of course, we are still doing movies because of Inside’s success, but for us, it was funny because we didn’t expect that. The way we thought Inside was the way we are still doing movies, just to please the audience and just to… We always thought about what kind of movie we would love to see, and what kind of movie would be ready to pay a ticket for. And that’s why, as Alex said, we are always talking about ideas and we are brainstorming about pitches because we always are trying to find a good plot, a good idea to surprise the horror fans because we always have considered ourselves as horror fans before being directors. And so that’s our goal, to at least please ourselves.
Like with Inside and even with Kandisha, that came out last year, there’s kind of a theme of brutality and kind of intense violence in your films. I wanted to hear a little bit more from you guys about why you like to use that kind of intensity, that kind of extreme violence in your films. The Deep House doesn’t have that as much, but I like more extreme horror. I think there’s a lot of really interesting things done with violence in horror, and kind of what that means, and so I just wanted to hear from you guys about why you kind of like leaning into, sometimes, more extreme aspects of the horror genre?
JM: As I said, we’ve never have planned anything, and when we use extreme violence, it’s because we feel that the story needs it. And as you said, in The Deep House we wanted to tell this really classical ghost story and haunted mansion story, but very classical. And we were really interested in the fact that we wanted to use the classic… How can I say? In aspects of the genre, the slamming doors, the piano playing by itself, the squeaks. And so, yes, it really depends on the story we want to tell. But as an audience, as viewers, we love gory movies and extreme violence, because it’s always a catharsis and it’s always fun to watch.
So, of course, as soon as we have the opportunity to do it, as you said, in Kandisha. We always have in mind the will of surprising the fans. Because the horror genre is very codified, and all the fans knows all these codes and they are really hard to surprise. And us, as an audience, there is nothing more fun than to be taken by the hand and brought into the universe of the director, and not knowing where you are going. Like, “Okay, I’m pretty sure this actor or this actress is going to be killed in the next sequence. Ah, it’s obvious,” and then, “Oh no, it’s the other one.”
And being surprised is something that has become very rare and complicated, the more you age and the more you have seen horror movies. So this is something we are trying to do. In Kandisha, that’s what we did. The first killing was offscreen, and so we wanted the audience to be like, “Ah, okay, is it going to be like much more a thriller?” And then at one moment we use very gory and splatter aspect, and then we come back to much more hidden horror. And so yeah, it depends.
That’s awesome, and that’s what I love about your movies. I feel like there’s such a variety in movies you guys have put out, and it’s really incredible to see the range that you’ve created. I do have one last question for you about The Deep House, and it would be what is one scare or one moment in that film that you were so excited that you were able to pull off?
AB: Maybe when the ghosts are walking, you know? It was a real challenge to do it for real, because, of course, when you are underwater, you float. And it was very difficult because we used [three real free divers]. Also a young girl, she was 11 during the shooting, and she did all the sequences for real, and also for the two ghosts. And the sequence maybe when the old ghost, when the old woman walks in the bedroom was a real challenge because it’s like a cliche. When you have a grandma in a haunted house, walking in the… “Yeah, we know this image.” All of our fans know this image, but underwater was totally different and very strange and disturbing. It’s for me, and maybe Julien has a different answer, but for me, it was this sequence.
JM: That’s the real moment of scare in The Deep House. It’s when we have the ghosts. And no, I totally share the answer of Alex, because this was one of the most dangerous challenges we had to face because there is an aspect that we haven’t mentioned, is the fact that we’ve built the house for real. We plunged it into this huge water tank, which is the biggest water tank in Europe. Having these free divers, like this couple that were quite aged and this little girl, was really stressful. We had a lot of security divers on the surface, underwater, so it was a really complicated sequence to shoot.
And as Alex said, we had to make them move. So we had to drag them with really thin wires to help them walking, and we had to put some heavy weights hidden inside their costumes for them to be able to pretend to walk. And so all this mess, the satisfaction to see it work was so awesome as a director, when you discover the image and you say, “It’s working. It’s scary, and they seem to be really walking underwater, and they have this cool attitude we had in mind when we wrote the movie.” And so, yeah, I would share the answer.
That’s awesome. And I was really impressed with that, with the ghost. I was like, “Oh, these are actual people floating towards them,” and it has that kind of feel. It was like a zombie movie feel, where they’re slow moving, but it’s still terrifying because they don’t stop coming after you. So that was an incredible accomplishment, for sure.
JM: It’s now complicated because we live in a cinema era where nothing is surprising because anything can exist on-screen with CGI. It has become normal to see dinosaurs, to see spaceships. And back in the 70s and 80s where the movie that made us were made, we were always asking ourselves, “How the fuck did you…” How they did that, you know?
It was incredible. Like, “Wow, a monster? A zombie? A fucking zombie, for real?” And so that’s one of the things that drove us with Alex to want to do it for real in The Deep House, to have this feeling that it’s existing on-screen.