The writing-directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel is a pair of cool, calculated theoreticians — imagine the Coen brothers without their loopy sense of humor. If their black-and-white, mistaken-identity noir, Suture (1993), wasn’t proof enough, now comes The Deep End.
Adapting Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s 1947 novel, The Blank Wall, McGehee and Siegel have made their intimate thriller about the terrors of emerging sexuality compelling through two key choices: the casting of icy redhead Tilda Swinton, and the use of Lake Tahoe as principal locale. Both are stunning, chilly and quite deep.
Margaret Hall (Swinton) sets off an unforeseen chain of events when she visits a gay bar in Reno, Nevada to confront the smarmy, thirtysomething Darby Reese (Josh Lucas), lover of her teenage son, Beau (Jonathan Tucker). Prim, tight-lipped, a model of suppressed fury, Margaret is there to reclaim her son’s lost innocence and shield him from his own choices. The consequences are devastating.
After a clandestine visit with Beau at the Halls’ lakeside home, Darby turns up dead, and Margaret uses the deep blue water to bury this secret. What arrives at her door soon after, almost like a manifestation of her submerged fears and desires, is blackmailer Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic), whose up-front demands for cash mask a conflicted agenda.
Shuttling between the gambling glitter gulch of Reno and a serene, comfortably rustic family life on Tahoe, a relationship develops between Margaret and Alek that’s intriguing if never entirely plausible. McGehee and Siegel create much of the film’s tension by contrasting Swinton’s cool reluctance with Visnjic’s hesitant warmth, and by revealing just how exposed any family is to the troubles they’ve tried to keep at bay.
Ultimately, The Deep End is like Lake Tahoe itself: scenic, inviting, but cold enough to chill your bones.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].