So, Deep End. This is a weird film, genre-wise–it’s not even remotely a horror film, except for one moment, but it FEELS like one. Peter Straub once said that The Red Badge of Courage was “a ghost story in which the ghost never appears,” and that’s sort of how this movie feels. The closest I can come to describing it is that it’s like Let the Right One In minus the vampire. It even ends in a swimming pool.
I go back and forth on whether or not to call it a Killtoberfest movie, but I think I will, because it taps into the same feelings of dread and some of the same themes of misogyny and adolescence that feature in many horror films.
It’s a British film from 1970, and the portrait it paints of youth in the last years of the Mod scene is gloomy, sordid and sad. Much of the movie takes place in a bathhouse where the protagonist, Mike, a young and innocent 15-year-old, has just gotten his first job. Played by John Mulder-Brown with a shy, effacing, mumbly energy, his inexperience and sexual immaturity lead him to obsess increasingly over his co-worker, Susan, who seems as though she’ll sleep with anyone but him. As the film goes on Mike gets more and more angry, embarrassed and unhappy in cycles until everything comes to a horrifying, destructive end.
Much of the movie is improvised and naturalistic; in fact, I might call this a predecessor to today’s mumblecore, except for the direction. Although at times it subtly mirrors Mike’s emotions, generally it seems to watch patiently, observing rather than indicating how you should feel about what’s happening. Meanwhile the lighting and production design emphasize the drabness of the world, which seems to be made up of darkness, pastel walls, red blood, and Susan as the bright yellow center of Mike’s world. The sound design has their voices echo in the long empty halls of the bathhouse where Mike is used for others’ fantasies and builds up his own. He only wishes to have his own desires fulfilled, but he’s fallen in love with an idea or an image, like the cardboard nude he runs away with (and covers with his coat, a strange mix of lust and modesty). He wouldn’t know what to do with a flesh and blood girl if he got one–but that doesn’t stop him from feeling frustration and childish anger when he can’t. They’re the same feelings that drive so many movie slashers and serial killers, so many men with knives and cruel mothers and an inability to deal with women other than violently. Deep End isn’t really a horror film, but it’s a damn good one all the same.