The Deep Dark (2023)

Written and directed by Mathieu Turi, The Deep Dark may not be a direct adaptation of the work of HP Lovecraft, but it is certainly a love letter to him, and its narrative unfurls within a world in which the Cthulhu mythos exists (with nods to the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, the Great Old Ones and the ‘mad Arab’ Abdul Alhazred). Set in Northern France in the 1950s, it tells of a group of miners who are tasked with escorting a professor deep underground so he can collect data for his research. It soon becomes evident, however, that the professor has an ulterior motive, and the discovery of an ancient crypt unleashes a primordial evil...

Many of Lovecraft's stories tell of the existential horror experienced by his characters whose discovery of forbidden knowledge reveals unspeakable, incomprehensible truths about human existence, throwing everything we thought we knew into question. Inter-dimensional doorways are conjured and all manner of unknowable cosmic horrors lumber/crawl/slither through into our world. Madness and death ensue. Human life is rendered insignificant and futile under the cruel, hungry gaze of deep-space deities and ancient alien gods. The creature in Turi's film is revealed to be a mere harbinger of something much, much worse.

Before we even get to the creature, we endure the daily horror and danger experienced by the miners as they go about their work. Tension comes from the stifling, claustrophobic confines of the mine and the men's hostility towards their new crew member Amir (Amir El Kacem). Most of the men are never really fleshed out beyond their nationalities (they're even called The Italian, The Spaniard etc.), but Turi's screenplay spends enough time with them, as they go about their daily work, to convey that they have a difficult job and are tough as nails. They are led by Roland (Samuel Le Bihan), a tough, no-nonsense former soldier. They're a tight knit crew, and an air of brawny machismo hangs thickly about them as they banter and bicker and try to suss out Amir. Lightly comedic moments come from Amir's desperate attempts to prove himself to the others.

As in Alien (1979), the lives of the crew are apparently expendable – money changes hands between Professor Berthier (Jean-Hugues Anglade) and the manager of the mine, who allows for Roland's small crew to blast their way through into a older part of the mine so the professor can explore. This area is ominously referred to as The Devil’s Island, due to its horrific and deadly conditions. The monster itself, when we see it, is impressive, and created by practical effects, not CGI. Its power is ever so slightly diminished, however, as we arguably see too much of it, too early on. It is way more effective when relegated to the shadows. One of the most startling moments of the film occurs when we catch a glimpse of the creature's elongated fingers reaching out of its sarcophagus and clutching the side with a spidery terror of a hand. Another effective moment comes when we catch glimpses of it advancing towards an injured, panicked miner as he uses the flash of his camera to light the dark space and track its proximity.  

Turi keeps things taut and tight as he cranks the tension and grotesque violence (at one stage the creature communicates by speaking through a severed human head it clutches in its claws). His screenplay touches on issues of class and race (the original title of the film is Gueules Noires, apparently an antiquated French term for miners, and as Roland explains, it describes their mouths and faces darkened by coal dust, rendering them indistinguishable from one another and therefore equal) and concludes that we're all equally insignificant in the eyes of Cthulhu and its minions. A deep, dark delight of a monster movie.

The Deep Dark screened at Glasgow FrightFest on Friday 8th March.  

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