Hallucinatory, subversive, and exaggerated, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End signifies a cinema of extremes, where heightened sexuality, angst-ridden youth, and massive repression ooze from every rigid angle. Set almost entirely in an urban London bathhouse, where the dank grey spaces occasionally burst forth blasts of color and sound, Deep End follows an escalating relationship between teenage employee Mike (John Moulder-Brown) and his older counterpart Susan (Jane Asher). Their interactions begin innocently enough, with Susan seeing Mike as a cute on-the-job companion worthy of her fleeting attention. But as Mike’s obsession with Susan gains momentum, Skolimowski begins to expand his visual fragmentation into the seedy London streets and clubs, introducing the boy to a devious alternate universe nipping at his heels.
Skolimowski details the excitement and naivete of young love, but then hollows it out as Mike begins to see Susan much like her other male suitors do – as an object. The brilliance of Deep End lies in it’s overt symbolism toward gender politics, whether it’s the brazen cardboard cutout of a naked Susan Mike steals from a strip club, the missing engagement diamond lost in a mound of dirty snow, or the splash of blood-red paint that begins and ends the film. Many of these absurdly dark moments produce comedic undertones, further complicating Skolimowski’s thrilling vision of modern day selfishness and excess with tonal shifts worthy of the best Hitchcock.
Skolimowski seems intent diving head first into scenes, skipping establishing shots altogether, plunging Mike deeper into his personal heart of darkness. This editing pattern makes Skolimowski’s London a relentlessly dark and muddy place, where conformity runs rampant and sexual deviousness is status quo. Or maybe that’s just Mike’s impression of this very adult world, and ultimately his eyes often tell untruths when experiencing the emotional roller-coaster of first love. It’s all a slippery slope, and Deep End certainly displays a unique narrative current hardwiring every scene into a disjointed psychological circuit breaker. For Mike, Skolimowski’s strange and unsettling world is a dangerous place to come of age.