With “The Deep House,” the French director duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo have revamped the haunted house genre by shooting almost the entire film under water.

The buzzy title, which was produced by Radar Films with Logical Pictures and is releasing in French cinemas next week, caught the eye of Jason Blum’s horror film powerhouse Blumhouse. The company acquired U.S. rights to the indie film, and Epix will release it domestically.

Well-liked in the industry for their happy-go-lucky personality and sense of humour, Maury and Bustillo, who are both in their 40’s, have become the leading lights of a new wave of French horror cinema with their first two acclaimed features, “Livid” and “Inside,” which played at Cannes’ Critics Week.

“The Deep House,” which marks their follow up to “Leatherface” [“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” prequel] revolves around a couple of YouTubers who go diving in a remote French lake and discover a house submerged in deep waters. Their adventure turns into a nightmare when they understand the house harbors atrocious crimes and find themselves trapped with hardly any oxygen left. Their presence has awakened a dark spirit haunting the house.

The movie is repped by Pulsar and XYZ. “The Deep House combines an amazing concept as well as massive technical challenges that were not made easier by the Covid pandemic,” said Pulsar Content’s co-founders Gilles Sousa and Marie Garrett. “The result is a great achievement from the whole team we cannot wait for the film to conquer international audiences,” said Sousa and Garrett.

The sales team at XYZ, meanwhile, said they “have been huge fans of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo ever since they made their debut with the iconic ‘Inside,’ and (were) thrilled to have the chance to bring the film to audiences across America with partners as strong as Blumhouse and Epix.”

Maury and Bustillo are constantly brainstorming ideas and like to walk together for hours in the streets of Paris to come up with original concepts. The idea for “The Deep House” came out of their shared love for the aquatic universe and haunted house films. “We were drawn by the idea of combining these two sub-genres,” say the filmmakers.

“We just wrote down four sentences with our concept and illustrated it with a photo of a diver and Clément Miserez, our producer, went for it,” says Maury. Bustillo concurs, “he had the flair and the craziness to come on board with just this concept of aquatic horror film.”

But filming down there proved highly challenging. “Shooting a film underwater is like making a movie for the first time. All the technical aspects had to be done differently there, and it forced us to reinvent the mise en scene process and the way shots are organized,” says Bustillo.

“Every sequence under water takes three times longer to shoot than a sequence above it — even a shot reverse shot takes a long time to set up,” says Maury.

The helmers explain that directing the actors under the water presented another level of difficulty because they couldn’t be fully wired and “there’s no wifi down there,” points out Bustillo. “We had an engineer who took months to create a system where we had antennas placed in the water which were connected to one another. This unique system required us to work with unusual crew members and allowed us to see the dailies  on the monitors above water,” says Maury.

This unique process was “costly both financially and in terms of time,” says Maury. The production also got impacted by Covid-19. They had to go into lockdown and still had five more days to shoot underwater. The delay bumped the budget by 300K to 5 million euros. 

The pair explained that the house was built on large grids and progressively plunged into a nine-meter deep water tank that was 20 meters wide. Near the water tank was a warehouse where the decors were being fabricated. 

“We couldn’t leave the whole house in the water for days at a time because the decors would have been ruined, so we would immerse only parts of the house under water, and were shooting scenes floor by floor; we could only immerse one meter per hour, which represented six meters,” says Bustillo.

“The whole process was crazy, and we owe it to Jacques Ballard, who is a master of underwater filming. Ballard notably created Beyonce’s aquatic music video ‘Runnin,'” says Maury.

In order to create the muddy look of the water and give it some density, the directors said some food items, such as mashed Brussels sprouts, were thrown in it. Bustillo says he wanted the picture to be “beautiful as well as nightmarish.”

It was a risky shoot — having the actors and some of the crew go six-meter deep was very uncommon and difficult to insure. Maury and Bustillo were not allowed to go down there and were following the shoot across five or six monitors and four cameras. Directing actors who have their faces hidden by the diving masks was another unusual aspect. “We needed the actors to be able to let strong emotions be reflected in their eyes, which we found with Camille Rowe and James Jagger.” 

The prolific helmers also have “Kandisha” lined up. The movie had its world premiere at Stiges last year but had its theatrical release canceled due to the pandemic. It will come out on VOD and DVD/Blu Ray in July. An exorcism-themed movie, “Kandisha” is set during the summer break and revolves around a powerful and vengeful demon.

The pair works as a mini-studio and always have a several projects in the pipeline. Their movies ofter deliver twists on staple horror concepts. “We never put all our eggs in the same basket, we know it takes time to get a project greenlit and sometimes we can develop something for years in vain — we had eight projects in development when we signed ‘Kandisha’ and ‘The Deep House,'” says Maury.

The duo is currently in Paris promoting “The Deep House” and is working on three different projects. “We’re ready to dive back in soon in an exotic location,” they say.

The movie was produced by Miserez and Matthieu Warter at Radar Films, and co-produced by Logical Pictures, Apollo Films Distribution and Forecast Pictures, with support from Umédia.