Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, starring Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat, Josh Lucas and Raymond Barry.

Well-received by critics and audiences at this year's Sundance Festival, 'The Deep End' is the second feature from directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, coming a full eight years after their acclaimed debut 'Suture'. Anchored by a subtly superb performance by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, the opening hour of 'The Deep End' hints at the promise of rare intrigue and dark allure, but its overall attempts at re-igniting the unsettling ambience of old-fashioned film noir are let down by a potholed plot and poor characterisation.

Margaret Hall (Swinton) is a devoted mother and housewife whose parental role is made more difficult by her husband's frequent absence due to overseas navy work. In the constant vicissitude of motherhood, Margaret's latest concern is the nascent and furtive homosexuality of her teenage son Beau (Tucker). The problem lies more specifically with his secret lover – older, shady nightclub owner Darby (Lucas). When Margaret discovers the latter's bloodied body in her own backyard, she is instantly overcome by fear, suspicion and paranoia.

Determined to protect her family and their erstwhile way of life, Margaret's maternal instinct subdues moral obligation and she instinctively disposes of the body. Her world is turned further upside down when brooding gangster Alek (Visnjic) emerges looking to extract money from the besieged mother. Alek's bargaining tool is a sex video of Beau and Darby which he threatens to dispatch to the cops if Margaret fails to meet his financial demands.

From this point forward 'The Deep End' suffers a serious loss of credibility, and it's a loss from which it never fully recovers. The film unwisely dilutes the focus on Margaret's unwavering devotion and centres instead on her relationship with the increasingly benign Alek. It simply doesn't work, dragging the film into dreaded 'routine' territory, a suspense thriller with few thrills.

'The Deep End' certainly looks impressive, with the bright natural colours of the beautiful Lake Tahoe district providing a contrast to the dark elements of the plot. In between the two extremes, the excellent Swinton pitches the character of Margaret Hall in a haze of moral nebuly, existing throughout the film in a cocoon of glacial grey. Ultimately, however, this lacks the sinister gravitas of vintage film noir, and despite the best efforts of the leading actress, it isn't really worth the bother. It took eight years for this?

Tom Grealis