The Deep End
Written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Starring Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker


The Deep End

You are Margaret Hall, wife of a naval officer away on duty, mother of three, living on Lake Tahoe and busy with your motherly life. You drive your kids to practice, you go to their recitals, you are nice to your aging father-in-law who lives with you. And then you discover that your 17-year-old son Beau is gay, that he has been in a drunken accident with Darby, an older lover, and that the lover will agree not to see your son again if you pay him $5,000. Your son is also about to get a scholarship to Wesleyan, and you want nothing to stand in his way.

You've barely processed any of this when Darby comes again, late one night, to visit Beau. They fight in the boathouse, and when you come outside you find Darby's body lying underwater, speared by the anchor of your dinghy. It appears that Beau killed him; you fear the worst and you do what a mother would do, which in the best tradition of melodrama only leads you deeper and deeper into an abyss. Beau refuses to talk to you, so you go ahead, believing that he is the killer. But soon a blackmailer shows up at your door, with a tape of your son having sex with Darby. He will sell it to you for $50,000. He also implies that he knows Beau killed Darby. With every step you take to hide things, you only trigger more disaster.

The film was written and directed by the team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel, from a 1940s novel by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding called "The Blank Wall," and as Margaret it has perhaps the only actress who could make the role believable. She is Tilda Swinton, the English actress best known for her role as Orlando, the gender-switching woman/man who lives 400 years. Swinton was also the best thing in "Beaches," playing the leader of the island pack of hedonists. Here she plays a mother driven to protect her child, totally without actorly mannerisms, her steely resolve keeping her in control, but letting us see the fear leak slowly, drip by drip, around the edges of her façade. Swinton is not a pretty woman but she has a great beauty, and she can communicate worlds with a look, a little movement of her lip, a small hand gesture. It's a superb performance and is likely to be remembered at Academy Award time.

In Margaret's meetings with the blackmailer (Goran Visnjic in a role we wish had more texture to it) she comes to think well of him, and yet even that leads to more deaths. But in the tradition of melodrama (in Alfred Hitchcock's phrase, 'first the story, then the characters') the film ends, if not happily then at least neatly. As directors, McGehee and Siegel show some amateurish camerawork, settling for clichéd shots when they could have been more inventive; they try to build suspense with darkness and shock cuts, when they would have done better to shoot everything in a bright, 'normal' light and let the fear speak for itself.