My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Deep starts out strong but has an odd ending that perhaps goes a little too far in explaining the proverbial man-behind-the-curtain and the overall story is diminished somewhat as a result.
Conversely, if you hate horror stories that end with “it’s all a spooky mystery that no one will ever be able to explain!” you may actually prefer the almost Bond villain-level of explanation that wraps up the novel. I discuss the ending a bit more in the spoiler section at the end of the review.
The premise is in broad strokes similar to Cutter’s previous novel, The Troop (Cutter is the macho pseudonym of Canadian author Craig Davidson). Both stories feature a small group of people confined to a space where very bad things are happening. In The Troop, it’s a scout troop on a woodsy island that gets visited upon by a man carrying a horrifying and very contagious disease. In The Deep it’s the crew of an underwater facility researching a substance that holds promise in curing “The ‘Gets”, a disease that causes people to essentially forget how to live.
The rest of this review contains spoilers. The biggies are behind spoiler tags at the end.
Where The Troop’s premise is straightforward and further fleshed out through interviews, journals and other bits sprinkled between chapters, The Deep aims for a greater mystery and ratchets tension by revealing more and more disturbing little details, layering on levels of psychological horror until it finally goes all out with blood and body parts everywhere.
The story starts out with a global scale suggested–The ‘Gets is a worldwide phenomenon–but quickly focuses on a handful of scientists on the Trieste, a research station situated eight miles below the ocean surface in the Marianas Trench. It is there that a seemingly miraculous healing substance dubbed ambrosia is found. After the lead scientist, the misanthropic Clayton Nelson, sends out a strange request to have his estranged brother come to the station, the story plunges (ho ho) into the meat of the matter.
The protagonist, Luke Nelson, is a troubled veterinarian, divorced from his wife after their son vanished from a park when he briefly let the boy out of his sight some seven years previous. On top of that, his brother is essentially an unfeeling robot that likes to experiment on animals, his father is a cowed, ineffective guardian, and his mother–deceased as the story begins–was pretty much a monster. He joins a tough but sensible soldier named Alice to descend to the Trieste and find out why his brother summoned him.
Things get increasingly weird after that.
Cutter again uses journals to document large parts of the action that the protagonist would otherwise have no knowledge of. While it’s a blatant cheat, it’s done with enough finesse that it didn’t pull me out of the story. The concept of slipping into “dream pools” is handled well, too. At times the characters realize they have nodded off and moved around, having dreams that feel seamlessly connected to the waking world, producing extreme disorientation when they awaken.
It gets increasingly bizarre and disturbing until Luke decides to get out before it’s too late. It’s at this point that the story abruptly shifts tone as the ending goes into specifics about what is behind the mystery of the ambrosia.
The creatures responsible for the ambrosia go on at length describing their thought processes and rationale for essentially creating a trap to lure people down to the bottom of the ocean and as I mentioned at the start of the review, the dialogue in this section feels like a Bond villain going on and on about his clever and dastardly plot.
On the one hand, kudos to Cutter for actually trying to tie everything up, but at the same time it felt hokey, sort of like Trelane playing with his human toys on the original Star Trek. It also turns out that The ‘Gets is just a coincidence so what is billed as a major plot element ends up seeming like a red herring.
Despite my issues with the ending, the trip there is still one worth taking. If you like old-fashioned horror that doesn’t shy away from gore, The Deep is recommended.