Published by Gallery Books on January 13th, 2015
A strange plague called the ’Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys…then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily…and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered—a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But now the station is incommunicado, and it’s up to a brave few to descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.
The Deep will make you wince in horror. It will. No way around it. One year after the pretty gory The Troop, his first survival horror novel, Nick Cutter comes back all boosted up with a new survival horror. The Deep brings things one step further: more science-fiction, more violence, more cruelty. The plot is equally more developed, though partially left unsolved. If you loved The Troop, you’ll probably enjoy The Deep even more. If you needed more convincing… well, it might depend.
The horror picks up pretty fast in The Deep: it starts with Luke, our protagonist, who’s crossing countries plagued with a zombie-like pandemic, in order to reach a deep-sea science station where his genius brother is trying to figure out a cure. The book opening is fantastic: the first description of a sick person, called ‘Gets, oblivious to the hundreds of bugs covering his head, will send chills down your spine.
Unfortunately, the story progression kind of withers after a while. Once in the deep-sea station, Luke turns out to be a rather passive fellow and he seems to be spending most of his time scrambling through narrow and poorly lit passageways on trivial errands, such as fetching a torchlight. I wouldn’t say that much happens in this station: the horror rather rises from memories, nightmares, panic attacks and potential (though uncertain) monster encounters, chases and escapes. Many of these scenes would work very well as short stories since they are often self-contained, like my favourite one about the little girl Hanna whom a “haunted” house tries to lure into its basement. One the other hand, they are so frequent and sometimes so remotely related to the present events that they feel disruptive.
I won’t argue those scenes’ effectiveness though, and I hope you like it gory and shocking-scary. Nick Cutter taps pretty much into all the universal phobias: creepy crawlies, confinement, obscurity, unidentifiable noises, isolation, sickness and body deformation, even dusty crammed basements and scary-looking clown pictures. The Deep is scary in an icky way: besides being very graphic, the story doesn’t shy away from animal cruelty or children-related horror. It triggers a very primal, reflex sense of terror.
Unfortunately, the story constantly gave me a feeling of déjà-vu. Like in The Troop, the inspiration from Stephen King is obvious: the use of childhood memories and the “personalized” monster encounters reminded me of It once again. The overall theme of the book, the deep-sea platform, the scientists’ breakdowns due to deep-sea high pressure, the first encounter with a new sentient life-form reminded me of the movie Abyss. The scientists turning mad while studying an alien phenomenon and their revived memories of lost ones reminded me of Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. The ending was also so very typical of a horror master that I won’t name lest it be a spoiler in itself.
All that to say The Deep really suffered from a lack of shiny new ideas. It certainly feels backed-up by an extensive knowledge of previous horror masterpieces, but I wish Nick Cutter had pushed things further, surprised me, dared a new take on some old tropes or created new ones.
Finally, I’m almost embarrassed to mention that I was bothered by the amount of swearing. I usually don’t mind but in The Deep, it did eventually got on my nerves… enough for me to count the occurrences of “fuck” (and its variations): I counted 82 (and I might have missed some). That’s more than once every five pages, even though in the book it happens more in outbursts. Indeed, a terrified person could be stuck in a swearing loop but hey, it’s a work of fiction and I figure an author has a bit more time to vary the expression of fear and panic of his characters.
So, did I enjoy The Deep? Yes, but not as much as I wanted. It is a well-executed old-school horror story, much more daring than The Troop and 100% effective in inspiring horror. On the other hand, the arc story was disappointing, letting down the pandemic theme that started the book so well (the book shows signs of a potential sequel, though). The progression is a bit sluggish and lacks element of surprise. Horror fans might feel like they’ve already seen it all in other books or movies. I would recommend this book if what you’re seeking is a Friday night gut-wrenching horror story to supersede those Freddy or Saw movies you’ve only watched too many times.