The Deep End

"You stay away from my son!"

The Deep End is one of the noblest failures that I’ve had the mixed pleasure of seeing this year. The well-reviewed suspense drama has the best of intentions but it doesn’t follow through. Its slow, somber tone works but its story is a pretentious flop. The filmmakers were so eager to make a story about a woman’s maternal instincts taken to the nth power that they forgot to make the circumstances surrounding the protagonist even remotely plausible.

The film opens with a knock on the door, and the sight of Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) entering what seems to be some sort of gay club and telling a guy to stay away from her son or else. She has reason to be worried. Beau (Jonathan Tucker), withdrawn, reserved, and closeted, has formed an unhealthy relationship with much-older Darby (Josh Lucas). Darby offers to keep away, for a healthy sum of $5,000.

The next morning, after a confusing and potentially incriminating series of events, Margaret finds Darby’s body lying by her dock. She assumes, not unreasonably, that Beau is in some way responsible, or at the very least that he will be a potential suspect in the impending investigation. So she does what any sensible mother would do: load the body into the motorboat and dump it in the middle of Lake Tahoe.

Wait, no, that’s emphatically not what a sensible mother would do, but I’m willing to forgive the logical misstep because if she didn’t dump the body, there would be no movie. But then things get really strange. Margaret is approached by Alek (Goran Visnjic), a strange man with a video tape of Beau having sex with Darby. He demands fifty thousand dollars to keep the tape out of the police’s grubby little hands. She says she has no way to get the money. He says he doesn’t care.

What I always find strange in movies like this is why the blackmailee never calls the blackmailer’s bluff. I recall Ron Howard’s underrated Ransom, which turned this convention on its head. If Alek and his partner in crime hand the tape over, the whole endeavor has been worthless and they walk away empty-handed. I’ve always thought this to be an unlikely scenario under any circumstances. If Margaret hands over the money, she may see the tape destroyed, but who says they don’t have other copies and who says they won’t come after her again?

Never mind. I can forgive this as well. The Deep End nails shut its own coffin with a ludicrous plot twist in which Alek evidently gets cold feet and inexplicably sympathizes with Margaret. In the climax, the protagonist is reduced to being a helpless bystander while two guys duke it out. You’d think she’d be elemental in the conflict’s resolution, but the movie makes her a waif.

Shame, because The Deep End‘s mood is on target. It has the courage to develop slowly and, right up until the end, it’s careful not to betray its character. The flip side, of course, is that in a movie this serious we have to buy the story and, unfortunately, I didn’t.

Perhaps the film would have been better off had it not tried to weave a Hitchcockian plot tapestry and simply focused on the woman trying to dig her son out of a hole. It’s not pleasant to watch a movie that works so hard to pull the rug out from under itself.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Score: C

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