So you’ve got Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton), a soccer mom from Lake Tahoe whose husband is always out to sea with the Navy, leaving her alone and bored doing chores at home and driving her three kids back and forth to this and that. Danger is brought into her routine when her closeted teenage son (Jonathan Tucker) is followed home by his 30 year old male lover who, after a rocky confrontation, ends up dead on the beach by the family house. Margaret doesn’t want her son to have his life ruined, so she takes the corpse to the other end of the lake and tries to clean away all evidence. Unfortunately, there’s a mysterious stranger (Goran Visnjic) who knows the truth, and he threatens to go to the cops if he’s not given fifty. thousand. dollars.
I’m not sure what’s worse about “The Deep End”: how unconvincing its plot is or how achingly dull it is? The basic elements like murder, cover-up and blackmail have the potential to make for an Hitchcockian thriller, but the bad writing by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (who also produces and directs) kills any possible suspense in the egg and replaces it by contrived twists. Right off the bat, we can’t understand why the mother does what she does, why she doesn’t just go to the cops; it’s made clear early on that this wasn’t premeditated murder, even though manipulative editing withdraws information from us until the end for an unsurprising revelation. This made me think of the “South Park” episode in which Stan’s mom thinks he’s killed a bunch of people and she goes psycho, burying corpses all over her backyard and chaining up nosy cops in her basement. “The Deep End” takes a somehow more realistic approach, but I’m not sure this is for the better, as the film is awfully pedestrian. Watching a mom making credit demands and pawning her jewelry is hardly exciting, and neither is her driving her kids to school or having her Jeep stall on her.
The film is competently directed, but without heart, wit nor style. Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography might have won an award at Sundance, and he does make Lake Tahoe look gorgeous, but in the context of the film, it just slows things down even worse. Pretty scenery does not a good movie make, and the way McGehee and Siegel spend every other scene getting off on shooting in and around water (the lake, pools, fish tanks) gets mighty tedious. All right, we get it, “the deep end”, drowning into more and more trouble, enough already! It would help if something interesting actually happened in the story. As it is, all we’ve got is a chick driving around and making phone calls. Yawn. The filmmakers do try to play the gay card, but only in a half-assed fashion. It’s like they just want to make things grittier; it could have been a girlfriend of the son who was killed and it wouldn’t affect the remainder of the film.
And then there’s Alek, the blackmailer played by Goran Visnjic. Where do I start? I’m guessing this is what drives the film into what the press materials call a “new and provocative landscape”. For you see, he who starts off as the villain at some point walks in on his prey as she’s standing over her father, who’s heart has stopped, and Mr. Big Time Blackmailer gives the old man CPR and saves his life. Then, gradually, he softens up for Margaret, and he doesn’t wanna force her to get the money anymore. But his boss thinks otherwise, and he’s much less accommodating than Alek. I won’t spoil more of the cheap twists that follow, but if you decide to submit yourself to this lousy flick anyway, prepare to roll your eyes and scratch your head over the anticlimactic, ill-thought final events of the film. “Oh, don’t go Mr. Blackmailer, sniff sniff, wait for me.” Even Tilda Swinton, whose intense performance is the only high point of this thrill-less thriller, can’t salvage “The Deep End” from being nothing more than a bargain bin “women-in-peril” pulp novel.