THE DEEP HOUSE follows an adventuring couple (Camille Rowe, James Jagger) who set out to explore a submerged house in a seemingly tranquil lake to capture uncharted content for their social media followers. Their dive turns into a nightmare as they discover a sinister presence in the perfectly preserved underwater family home. With limited oxygen supply and time running against them, the couple must find a way to escape the underwater house of horrors before it’s too late.
For the release of THE DEEP HOUSE, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with co-directors/co-writers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, where they discussed how the concept of THE DEEP HOUSE came to be, what it was like shooting the underwater film on a limited budget, and which scenes they were most excited about in how they came out.
Editor’s Note: There are heavy spoilers featured in this THE DEEP HOUSE interview. Proceed with caution…
I’ve never seen a haunted house-style film like this before and I was such a fan of Leatherface, so being able to see this now is really exciting. To start things off, how did THE DEEP HOUSE even come to be?
Alexandre Bustillo: No, the idea came very simply to us. Because with Julian, we love challenging each other every time, every day, with brainstorming and new ideas about new ideas. We were just working in the streets of Paris like lovers and we talked to each other and we have been in love for a lot of time. We are in love with underwater sequences in films, in general. Like in Dario Argento’s Inferno, like In Dreams by Neil Jordan, we are totally in love with this movie. And, of course, we are in love with haunted house movies in general. And suddenly, the idea came. Can you imagine? Underwater? Haunted Houses? What the fuck guys? It’s a cool idea, and we can call it THE DEEP HOUSE. Boom! The concept was born very quickly. And we were lucky because the day after we called Clément Miserez, our producer. We knew him of course. For two or three years, we were searching an idea to make a movie with him. And so, we call him and we told him we have an idea. It’s just a concept. It’s not a story yet, but just the concept. And it’s an underwater haunted house, and Clément told us, “Oh, guys, I love the idea, so let’s do it.” So we were very lucky, because we found very quickly a producer. Because you must know that in France, it’s more difficult than in the US to find money to do our movies. Maybe it will change next month with Titane. But two years ago, it was very complicated to find money to do our movies, and especially underwater horror movies, because in France if you want to do a horror movie you can’t [tries to find the word…].
Julien Maury: Expect.
Alexandre Bustillo: Expect more than two million. And to do a horror movie underwater? It was a little bit more expensive. So we searched to find 4.6 Million, and it’s a really small budget. Of course, it’s a lot of money. But a fun movie like this?
Alexandre Bustillo: Yes, it was a small budget. So, it was very complicated and we shot this movie without money and without time because we shot in just thirty-five days of shooting. Very very fast, with the crazy COVID in the middle of the shooting. [laughs] So, it was what the fuck?! But it was good.
We’re just talking about this on paper and in our brains. We’re like, yeah, an underwater haunted house is fucking dope! But then when it came time to actually do it because, in life and considering that water is one of the most difficult things to film in, was there a big tank that you guys use? Did you design the house and put it in the water? How did that all come together?
Julien Maury: No, you’re right. Having the excitement past, the thing is that we, since the beginning, wanted to shoot it for real. For us, we wanted to do it in real conditions, underwater for real. We knew that it would be like 100 times more difficult than to do it in front of a green screen. But we want it to… all the underwater sequence that we are seeing these days, like in Aquaman or in The Shape of Water, and so it’s always shot in green screen, and you have some CGI after to add some hairs moving slowly, and the fabrics moving slowly, and with whatever. We knew that it would be really complicated, but we wanted the audience to have this visceral feeling of being in that element that is not ours. So the first thing for us was to find the right team, of course, and especially the DoP and the set designer, because we wanted to have this house built for real. So, the DoP is Jacques Ballard and he is one of the greatest underwater DoP in the world. We discovered his job by watching Beyonce’s music video Runnin’. I don’t know if you’ve seen [both Maury and Bustillo start singing].
Alexandre Bustillo: Sorry, Shannon! [laughs]
Julien Maury: He always wanted to do the chorus of Beyonce. It’s complicated sometimes on set. [sings Action], and he had the same excitement as our set designer who was a guy called Hubert Pouille, and both had huge resumes, and had done hundreds of movies. But they both said a real house underwater has never been made before, and it seemed to be impossible. There must be a reason why it hasn’t been done before, and especially with 5 million euros. So, let’s do it. And we were like, Okay, we love that energy, and maybe we are going to go straight into a wall. But let’s try it. As Alex said we were so lucky to have our producer backing us up and trusting us, and so we have resolved all the issues and the challenges, step by step. Every day of shooting was kind of nightmarish on the paper, but curiously, we were very prepared and we had plenty of prep, and it was like a military organization. We needed to have everything anticipated because we knew that it was going to take almost three times longer than the regular shoot, and everything is slower underwater.
With Alex, we were on the surface. We shot in the biggest water tank in Europe. It’s in Belgium, and we had the opportunity of having the grill inside the basin that was coming up into the surface, and then we would be able to put all the sets on, and to have the grill back into the water like one meter per hour, and not to have all the set explode and ripped off. It was a very slow operation and with cranes, and getting into the water at six meters down. After that, with Alex, we were on the surface checking on the monitors, and all the wall technical crew was underwater. We were able to communicate with them through two microphones. One was for the wall crew for the wall Basin with the underwater speaker, and the other one was for the actors, and they had in their masks, they had headsets, and they were able to understand what we were saying and to answer because they had microphones as well. One of the challenges was to give them information about how to play, but also how to shoot the movie because it’s a found footage. So they had the cameras stuck to their masks. So at the same time, they were acting and, at the same time, they had us in their ear saying chin up, chin up, chin down. We cannot see what you’re seeing. We want to see your hands, and it was a nightmare for them, and for us as well, because we had four cameras running at the same time. So, we had all these screens everywhere and checked everything.
But curiously, it was frustrating in the beginning because with Alex, we are the kind of directors that are always on set touching everything and changing elements ourselves, not asking people to do it for us. We are close to our actors and showing them how to do things, and here we couldn’t do that. So we had all the rehearsals to prepare every dive and we had the big model of the house with toys, and we were like moving the toys inside saying things like, “It’s okay. You’re going to go through this door and go on the right, and then discover what’s on the wall. Okay, so the camera axis is going to be like that. So, we can hide the security divers here and there. And here you have a security air tank hidden under the bed, and here you have…” So, it was like a mess every day. The security was one of the main parameters to keep in mind. For example, all the rooms in the house didn’t have any roof. Because, they must be able to go back to the surface quickly in case of problems so, but I’m talking too much.
No! It’s fascinating. Actually, it brings me to my next question about the actors. How did you know who were the right people for Tina and Ben? I’m assuming you went with scuba divers or people that were familiar with swimming underwater.
Alexandre Bustillo: For the actors, the real challenge wasn’t to find Ben and Tina because, of course, it was a challenge, but the real challenge was to find who could be able to play the ghost. Because for Ben and Tina, we were lucky because we found them very quickly at the beginning of the process. And then after that, we find gems very quickly too. And of course, in the movie, we use a stunt double. We didn’t have the choice not to use the stunt double because diving and acting at the same time is very… you are very tired very quickly. And shooting this movie, it was like you’re doing a big stunt every day. So we had the actors, and we had the double, and the stuns were, of course, professional divers were able to stay underwater, maybe six or seven hours.
Bustillo continued: So, it was a challenge to find the ghosts, because, with Julien, we didn’t want to use special effects. It was too expensive and special effects underwater never works. You can ask Steven Spielberg. You can ask everybody who works underwater with special effects. It’s a nightmare. It’s nightmarish. So, we had the idea to do it for real, to use freedivers to do play the ghosts. So we were looking for months for freedivers who were interested to play in our movie, and we were lucky to find the whole couple and then the young girl, because she was only 11 years old during the shooting, and she did all the sequences for real without effects. We are lucky because she is a free driver, since three or four years ago. She’s being trained by maybe one of the most important freedivers in the world, and we were so lucky to find her because she was perfect. It was very stressful when she was on the set, because it was a little bit dangerous and tricky to put a young girl without oxygen six meters down.
It was a real challenge French-style. But it works. And we are very happy with the results. Because I’m sure that with special effects the result will be not the same and not so efficient. So, and it was a small budget. So we didn’t have the choice to use, you know, like a Plan B, or like, you know what I mean? So yeah, it was a challenge every day like Julien said, but a good challenge. Every day was different and, at the end of every day, we were so happy to shoot our incredible images. We had an editor. The editor was on set with us because it was a lot of work to edit this movie. And every time after shooting with our editor watching the rush and saying, “Wow!” We were happy.
I wanted to bring up this next part, which is a spoiler so I’ll do this after everything’s released, but I love films that end on a non-happy note. I think that there’s a realism to that, because it never actually always works out the way that people think. And I love that you guys did it. She was so close. She was so close to the surface. Why make that decision?
Alexandre Bustillo: [laughs] Our decision…an unhappy ending is our trademark.
Julien Maury: Yeah, and we grew up by watching John Carpenter’s movies and there are so many happy endings. Why do one more? That’s funny because when the movie was released in France, we did a lot of previews and met with the audience and q&a after the shows. Each time we had this question like how…how come she did not succeed? And some people were pissed about it. And me I thought it was satisfying to see that because that’s what we wanted to do, to play on the frustration. As I was saying earlier, there is nothing more exciting than not knowing where the story’s going, and as an audience, it’s so great not to have guessed everything he knows since the beginning and knows who was going to survive, who was going to die, and being taken by the end by the director is so cool. It’s part of the experience of watching movies.
Once again, we were lucky to have a trustful producer. He could have said guys, come on, we [are] aiming at the international market. No. Maybe there is going to be a sequel. No, he trusted us. He said, Okay if you feel it’s the right way to finish the movie, let’s do it this way. And so, it’s so rare. Why would we do a descending? Why not? We always have loved in movies nihilistic endings and…
Alexandre Bustillo: And an opposite ending can be very ridiculous. She emerged from the lake like, “Woo hoo. I’m saved!”.
I watch hundreds of horror movies a year and I love underwater films. And I’m always like, [sarcasm] oh they survived! Yay! And at that time I was, she’s so close. And then when she didn’t, I was like, oh my god, she didn’t survive. I was so happy that she didn’t survive.
Alexandre Bustillo: So cruel!
Julien Maury: It’s another kind of pleasure. It’s the pleasure of being surprised and the world is cruel. The world is nihilistic, so this is our way of showing it.
My last question for you guys is, now that THE DEEP HOUSE is done. It’s gonna be seen by everybody. What was the most enjoyable aspect of filming this? Do you have a favorite scene?
Alexandre Bustillo: For me, my favorite scene is maybe when the old woman walks for real in the bedroom when the diver is on the bed. We were so happy when we did this sequence, like I said before, we did it for real, of course, without special effects. With a freediver woman who did it for real. She walks for real in the room and when we shot it with Julien, we were in front of our screens watching the sequence and saying, “Wow, it works. It works! IT WORKS! And it’s so fucking crazy to watch these strange legs totally slowly and it’s disturbing at the same time and wow! Personally, it’s my favorite sequence. And I’m in love with another sequence, but sadly we cut it during the editing but it will be on the Blu-ray. It’s a sequence with Camille and a mirror, and she saw a ghost in the mirror. And another diver came in the house before them and dies in the house before them, but now, it’s a diver ghost, who tried to tell them, “Don’t go!”
Julien Maury: No, I share Alex’s answer, because I would say all the moments with the freedivers, because it was so stressful with these moments, and to see that it was working was such a relief. It was really exciting. When they release themselves from the chains, I love this shot, where they are just crawling, because, of course, they were dragged by thin wires because they couldn’t walk underwater. And they had to pretend walking and the fact that it worked was so relieving that it was really cool. But, as you mentioned, the memory of the shooting as well? I would say that the wall shooting was honestly a real joy for me. Because warning, this is going to be a cute moment. Alex is my best friend. And, and this shooting was so particular regarding the rest of the movie we’ve done together, because we were in this huge place all by ourselves just him and me are sitting on our chairs and looking at the screens. And honestly, it was the best moment, it was just Alex and I laughing and saying bullshit, and trying to find solutions and brainstorming, and just the two of us. It was such a strange way of shooting a movie, because it was totally unique. We are the only ones on the surface with the script and everyone is nowhere to be seen. So, it was so strange that I really dug this moment with Alex.
THE DEEP HOUSE is now available on Digital and on Demand! To learn more about THE DEEP HOUSE, check out our review!