A woman believes her 17 year-old son has murdered a man. She covers up the killing the best she can, but the case is still investigated by the local police. To make matters worse, there is a tape of her son and the deceased guy having sex, and a group of criminals threaten to hand over the recording to the authorities if she doesn’t pay them $50,000. She doesn’t want her son implicated in the murder investigation, so the film follows her desperate attempts to raise the money and the development of her relationship with one of the blackmailers.
This is the set-up for 2001 film The Deep End, a highly intelligent and supremely watchable thriller that has echoes of Hitchcock and, on a more contemporary level, David Fincher. Directing team Scott McGehee and David Seigel really know how to marry suspense and domestic realties together to conjure up a rich and multilayered piece of filmmaking.
Tilda Swinton was well-known when she took the role of the mother Margaret, but this film helped her win favour with audiences and critics and build on her reputation as a talented actor of dynamic range.
It is also refreshing that a film made over ten years ago, backed by a Hollywood studio, doesn’t sensationalise or over-play the theme of homosexuality. Margaret’s son is gay, but that is never raised as a problem or the main issue of the film. Of course, that is the way it should be, but let’s not forget how much attitudes to homosexuals have changed in the past eleven years. The whole plot revolves around his mother’s attempts at coming to terms with the fact that he may have killed (albeit in self-defence) his boyfriend, rather than her coming to terms with the fact she has a gay son.
The ending of the film is one of the most surprising aspects, as it very cleverly wrong-foots the audience into guessing (wrongly) what is about to happen. Everything fits together into place very well, and although the story does edge towards a finale of violence, it’s handled without lazy hysteria.
The Deep End is a little-known gem; a film that delivers superb characterisation, pitch-perfect suspense and situations that are extraordinary but chillingly believable. It’s not often you get all those qualities in one movie.
The Deep End (2001), directed by Scott McGehee and David Seigel, is distributed on DVD in the UK by Twentieth Century Fox, Certificate 15.