TORONTO AFTER DARK FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! There is a singular moment in writer-director Mathieu Turi’s The Deep Dark that marks its approach to horror. The flash of an old camera illuminates an entirely black screen, and for a few fleeting yet enthralling frames, you grasp the shape of a creature shambling through the darkness. It is a beguiling yet astounding moment in that it is both harrowing and comforting. Harrowing because the creature is unlike anything you imagined, comforting because the moment is so masterful and cinematic. In that instant, you understand that, with Turi, you are in capable hands.
In many ways, this is a movie from the past. It is exquisitely shot and filmed entirely on location. What puts it over the top is the excellent use of practical effects. There is a delectable tangibility to the characters and the setting that is evocative of cult sleepers like The Descent. And though some shortcomings hold it back from reaching those depths, this still is a welcome return to the horror films of decades past.
The Deep Dark follows the young Moroccan Amir (Amir El Kacem), who journeys to Northern France to make money for his family working in a coal mine. He joins veteran miner Roland (Samuel Le Bihan), whose team must escort a university professor (Jean-Hugues Anglade) into the mine to collect archaeological samples. However, as they descend further into the depths, they are stalked by chilling and ancient evil.
“…as they descend further into the depths, they are stalked by a chilling and ancient evil.”
What gives the film its wonderfully bygone feel is that it features next to no CGI. In particular, the creature is entirely practical and was brought to life by a team of puppeteers. Its look and movement are reminiscent of horror classics such as The Thing. And yet, the film still presides in the modern era thanks to its beautiful cinematography. Director of photography Alain Duplantier gives each frame a luscious composition, capturing light and character with fullness. Further, the scenes in the mine are depicted in a way that consistently provides the viewer with a strong sense of place.
The first act is paced with a very specific rhythm. However, the momentum stutters through the second act, resulting in narrative dead space. This is filled with needless exposition, making the story feel inert. The world would have worked seamlessly if more was left to the imagination. Furthermore, some minor tightening to the flow would have propelled the film to the upper echelon.
Still, a few misgivings do not cripple the experience. The final act is a return to pace and form, all culminating in a solid climax. Overall, the entire package is a welcome change from the modern take on horror that prefers either excessive gore or too-literal homage. Turi has internalized his inspirations to create something memorable. Though unrefined and somewhat unpolished, The Deep Dark is a modern horror gem.
The Deep Dark screened at the 2023 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
"…a modern horror gem."