Deep Fear (aka Bunker 717) had its European première at FrightFest 2022
It is Paris in 1991, and Sonia (Sofia Lesaffre) is hoping to give her university mates Henry (Victor Meutelet) and Max (Kassim Meesters) a memorable weekend before Henry is shipped off for military service. So they drink and do drugs together, and the following afternoon meet Sonia’s dealer Ramy (Joseph Olivennes), who offers to be their guide into the hidden catacombs beneath the city. Except that Grégory Beghin’s Deep Fear opens two years earlier in 1989, with a young graffiti artist tagging a wall deep below when he comes under violent attack from someone or something – so we are even more attuned to the potential dangers of this trip than “claustrophobic, nyctophobic, kenophobic, scotophobic, musophobic” Max.
Sonia, too, has her own fears. As a mixed-race Franco-Algerian, she is sensitive to the presence of neo-Nazi skinheads in the bar, and later that evening, drunk and stoned, has a literal nightmare about them invading her small apartment in the wee hours. The next day, once Ramy has led the trio into the tunnels, they will have a frightening encounter with the very same skinheads whose paths Sonia briefly crossed, both awake and asleep, the night before. This is a rather literal version of the alchemical principle of ‘as above, so below’ – also the title of another horror film set in the Parisian catacombs – with Sonia finding her fears of xenophobic thuggery being realised both aboveground and underneath the surface. Meanwhile, as our urban explorers join Ramy’s fellow cataphiles who come with names – Faust (Blaise Afonso), Dante (Olivier Bony) and Lamia (Léone François-Jannsens) – well suited to their chthonic adventurism, they venture into the unexplored (and carefully named) ‘White Zone’ where they unearth an older, but still very much alive, ideology of racist hatred and white supremacy, lurking in the very foundations of the French capital and biding its time for an opportunity to rise destructively again.
So like Xavier Gens’ feature debut Frontier(s) (2007), Deep Fear is a survival horror concerned with the fascism dormant in modern France – and like Herbert J. Leder’s The Frozen Dead (1966), Ken Wiederhorn’s Shock Waves (1977), Jean Rollin’s Zombie Lake (1981), Steve Barker’s Outpost (2008), Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow (2009), Joel Schumacher’s Blood Creek (2009), Timo Vuorensola’s Iron Sky (2012), Tommy Wirklund and Sonny Laguna’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018) and Marc Fehse’s Sky Sharks (2020), it shows long-buried Nazism resurgent. So as well as offering tense, well-lit subterranean slice and dice, this is also a deeply political film, which, though set in the early Nineties, and delving back even further into the past of the Second World War, exposes authoritarianism and atrocity as forces that are never all that far beneath civilised society, and have a habit of not staying repressed for long. This is a bleak cautionary tale, expressed in the language of genre and unfolding in and underneath a city that was easily occupied not so very long ago by extremist, tyrannical powers, and could just as easily cave to them again. That is indeed the deepest fear: of the enemy within and the monster underneath.
strap: Grégory Beghin’s subterranean survival horror sees a group of young urban explorers unearthing a spectre from France’s past (and present)
© Anton Bitel