by RICHARD WINTERS
Deep End is a moody drama of a 15 year old boy named Mike (John Moulder-Brown) who goes to work at a public bath in London. There he meets an alluring red-headed woman named Sue (Jane Asher). She begins flirting with him, which causes him to become infatuated with her. He starts following her around and even tries to scare off her two boyfriends, as she is seeing both a man her own age and an older, married man. Sue, who seems to enjoy manipulating all the men in her life, treats it all like it’s a silly game, but it ultimately ends in tragedy.
One of the things that really helps this film stand-out is the believability of the Mike character. It was fascinating seeing all the different sides to his personality and I felt each one rang true for a boy his age. There are times when he seems streetwise and even savvy, and then there are other moments when he is immature, irresponsible, and emotionally out-of-control. Although his obsession with Sue borders on being frightening, I did like how he comes up with clever ways to help her like the ingenious way he finds the diamond that fell out of her ring into the snow. I also liked how he becomes shocked at seeing a semi-nude poster of Sue outside a club where she works as a stripper part-time, and how he steals it away in order to “protect her honor.”
Sue on the other hand, seems almost all bad with very few good traits, but is nevertheless equally believable. She is mean and catty with everyone, abuses animals, and comes up emotionally hollow at every turn. However, I could see how a young man of Mike’s age could become trapped by her seductive ways and perceived “maturity,” which makes the obsession itself as intriguing as their personalities.
Acclaimed writer/director Jerzy Skolimowski seems very much in control here. He knows what buttons to press and when to do it. I liked the color schemes, especially his use of red. I also liked how he foreshadows the film’s final shot several times during the movie. The ending, especially the final shot, is very provocative and perverse. It reminded me in a way of Nicholas Roeg’s excellent film Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession (1980). Everything gets played out in such an odd way that it keeps you guessing until the final second as to what happens, which ends up staying with you long after the film is over. Also, having Cat Stevens do the music score gives the soundtrack a nice distinction.
I did end up having a few reservations about the film. I wanted Mike’s initial interactions with Sue to be a little more extended than just the brief flirting that is shown. The film takes place in buildings that are all old, rundown, and murky, which in some ways is good because it helps reflect the murky personalities of the characters. Yet I wasn’t sure if this was all intentional or just the result of working on a low budget. I would have liked a few scenes done against a more appealing background just to allow for more visual variety.
Diana Dors, who was a popular British actress during the ‘50s and ‘60s and even considered a sex symbol for a time, gets a great bit that has to be seen to really be appreciated. She plays a sexually frustrated middle-aged woman who rents a room at the public bath and then tricks Mike into coming into the room with her. She then grabs his hair and shakes his head all around while she describes a sexual fantasy. When she is done she throws him back to the floor and says “You can go now, I don’t need you anymore.”