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Eric’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Review: The Deep Ones (2020)


★★★ out of ★★★★★
There’s literally something fishy about this little beachside community, as a vacationing couple get entangled with a curious beachside community ritual. This is what you get if you mashup Rosemary’s Baby with Humanoids from the Deep. The film telegraphs its punches, but it is clearly for fans who like their Lovecraft stories with a thin slice of sleazy.
Directed by Chad Ferrin

The Deep Ones is a bit of a throwback to the Full Moon Video days of Stuart Gordon. I’m sure the producers of this film would be proud to be associated with those iconic Lovecraft influenced films. It is not as gory as the Gordon productions, but it it adapts the work of Lovecraft in a fun straightforward way reminiscent of those films.

The story focuses on a couple, Alex (Gina La Piana) and Petri (Johann Urb), who have rented an Air B&B beach house with a wonderful view of the ocean. The eccentric couple who are renting the space out are incredibly welcoming but definitely odd. Russel Marsh (Robert Miano) is engaging, and has no concept of personal space. His very pregnant wife Ingrid (Silvia Spross) is an aging hippie with a goggle-eyed stare and an uneasy grin. Together they celebrate the arrival of their new guests, where they learn that Alex and Petri have been trying hard to have a child of their own without success.

To no surprise to anyone familiar with Lovecraftian lore, the odd hosts are not what they seem. They are, and much of the beach community are in-bred deep ones, people with fish genetics and a desire to summon Dagon, a malevolent god of the sea. And they have targeted Alex to be an ideal candidate for breeding stock for their evil deity.

But first, there is an awkward charm offensive, with Russel hypnotically pacifying the gullible big man fairly easily. Ingrid reveals that what she is pregnant with is clearly not normal, in a patently icky moment of tentacles, visions, and things going in and out of orifices that really shouldn’t be.

Alex is kept in the dark about Petri’s condition, though she is confused about his intimate bond with the strange local folks. Her best friend Deb (Jackie Debatin) comes by to relax with them on vacation, and the beach community throws a party and insists that the visitors join in the fun. This is an excuse for the cult to check out the goods on display and determine if she’s the right one.

Alex and Deb bail the party early, and head back to the beach house to be rid of the cryptic locals, and discover a bit of history of the town that suggests what might be happening. Of course, the Stars are Right, and the dark wheels are in motion. The smart thing would be to leave ASAP and forget the remaining days at the B&B, but with Petri enchanted, it isn’t so easy, and the cult makes their move.

The Deep Ones is lovingly cut from the most established of Lovecraftian Tropes. Right down to the names of the characters. Marsh. Zadock. Rayburn. These are meaningful names in the annals of the Cthulhu Mythos. This is an old-fashioned B movie/exploitation feature. There is some nudity and sexual scenes that are reminiscent of those old Full Moon Features, and the campy acting and wooden archetype characters fit that mold as well. What I do wish is that they actually pushed the creature feature effects more.

By comparison, a similarly budgeted and much nastier movie, Dagon (2001), was more visceral and embraced the fishiness of the Deep Ones much more than this film did. For a movie titled the Deep Ones, they didn’t really give us the Deep Ones in all their aquatic glory. We got cultists, but they didn’t really have the “Innsmouth Look” that really shouts Deep One. Also, Dagon is shown to be a man-sized monster, and I would have preferred the full DAGON that is a towering beast. But, budgets. (Shrug)

As a psychological thriller, it does a pretty decent job. The plot is railroad straight, and the cosmic elements are pretty straightforward. As a result, the film is also rather predictable. You can sense the dramatic beats coming. You know when the side characters are going to get offed, and even the “surprise ending” is foreshadowed pretty heavily.

Lovecraft fans, I’m sure will really appreciate the Easter Eggs in the movie. The little nods to the literature. Fans of pregnancy horror fare will also find a lot to like about this film. But be warned there is a rape scene in the film, for those who need that trigger warning. Think of this as Rosemary’s Baby meets Humanoids of the Deep, and you’ll have a pretty decent set of benchmarks.

Gina La Piana does a serviceable job as our lead. She toes the line from suspicious and worried to exasperated by the behavior of her husband. The film really benefits from the presence of veteran actor Robert Miano (lots of cop dramas and mob movies… notably Donnie Brasco). He plays Russel with both charm and menace. He has a fantastic cold stare and gives real gravitas to a film that might otherwise feel a little light. There is a trans character who is played so broad, however, that almost undoes whatever seriousness the film was trying to achieve.

The tonal balance of the film weaved all over the place. Sometimes it wanted to be a serious thriller, and other times a cartoonish sketch. It never gets to the point of being a horror-comedy, but nobody would mistake this as an art-house slow-burn film, either.

Chad Ferrin cut his teeth at Troma and Crappy World Films, directing such films as The Ghouls and Easter Bunny Kill! Kill! So this represents a step up in quality from his early work for sure. But he still has a carnival barker’s understanding of how to tap into the alligator brain that fans of exploitation films love. Technically, it’s not a great film. But it is a fun and breezy (if sleazy) take.

The Deep Ones was playing at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and was a natural selection for this event. It is not rated, but it would garner a Hard R largely for the sexual situations. It will likely be on the film circuit for a while longer and does not yet have a streaming distribution, but when it does we will note it here.

Here is the RED BAND Trailer. NSFW

Categories: Festivals, ReviewsTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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