‘The Deep Dark’ FilmQuest Review: A Slow Burn with Exceptional Creature Design
I love archeological horror films and I am equally fond of subterranean horror. So, when I saw that The Deep Dark was screening at FilmQuest, I jumped at the chance to check out the film. After all, this French-language picture combines two of my favorite niches within the horror genre.
While the flick doesn’t work quite as well as I had hoped, it makes up for its shortcomings with glorious creature design, dazzling effects, and strong performances from the core cast.
The Deep Dark follows a group of miners (circa the mid-20th century) as they descend into uncharted territory with a professor searching for artifacts in tow. When the group makes their way to the depths of the mine shaft, they come into contact with an ancient crypt and accidentally release a vengeful supernatural deity with an appetite for destruction. Their path back to the surface is blocked by a landslide, meaning they are stuck in the underground lair with no obvious means of escape. Accordingly, the miners, along with the instructor, must think critically and keep their wits about them if they stand any chance of surviving this harrowing ordeal.
Although The Deep Dark doesn’t ever reach the level of intensity achieved by standout efforts in the archeological horror subgenre like As Above, So Below, I still had a great time with it. And I think anyone who shares my appreciation for subterranean terror and archeological horror is likely to find plenty to enjoy here.
The film’s greatest strengths pertain to the ancient deity at the center of the narrative. The creature’s physical appearance is nothing short of impeccable. The antagonist is imposing and unique-looking. The makeup consists primarily of bones and tissue, giving the deity a grotesque physicality of which I couldn’t get enough.
On that note, we don’t see a whole lot of the creature. Writer/director Mathieu Turi shows remarkable restraint in that regard. Shots that give the audience a proper glimpse of the icky antagonist are few and far between, which makes the being’s presence all the more impressive when we do get a substantial look. Seeing the hideous creation primarily through partial glimpses, with only a handful of shots where all of its physicality is in view allows us to fill in the gaps with our imagination.
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In addition to really impressive creature design, the film also features some truly visceral kills. We see characters meet their end in a variety of inventive ways. One especially memorable exchange sees the malevolent specter using the severed head of one character as a mouthpiece. That sequence is all kinds of memorable. It feels a bit like something you’d expect to see within the Evil Dead cinematic universe.
Aside from great effects work across the board, the film also benefits from strong performances from its core cast of characters. Amir El Kacem is great as the lead character, Amir. He is the most accessible of the bunch and although we don’t get much in the way of character development, Amir manages to be relatable, convincingly conveying a palpable sense of utter desperation. It’s that very sense of desperation that lands the leading man in this dangerous scenario at the bottom of a mine shaft.
The inherent dangers of the locale serve to provide a built-in sense of tension until the true threat arrives on the scene. That works well enough. But I did wish the slow build had been a little less gradual. Some additional mine-related hazards would have helped carry the picture to the point where the deity arrives. As it stands, strong performances from the core cast helped keep me from getting bored. But the picture would have benefited from really ratcheting up the unease the way Neil Marshall so masterfully does in the first half of The Descent. That distinction makes the arrival of the creatures in the back half of The Descent almost unbearable. By the time the central antagonist arrives on the scene in The Deep Dark, I was itching for something to happen.
The film’s minor pacing issues didn’t derail my enjoyment entirely. But I was left wanting just a little more. A higher tension level could have effectively elevated this picture from good to great. With that said, I still had a fun time with The Deep Dark and I think anyone who enjoys glorious practical creature effects and visceral gore should expect a similar experience.
The film screened at FilmQuest and is gearing up to premiere in its native France on November 15, 2023. No word just yet on a stateside premiere date.
‘The Deep Dark’ excels as a creature feature but lacks sustained tension for the first two acts.