Deep follows a medical sleep study with deadly results, but the tone of the film and the participants’ experiences are predominantly upbeat.
This Thai Netflix thriller movie opens with a man –standing, but asleep– swaying at the edge of a building’s rooftop. A crowd has gathered at the ground floor of the building to watch as he tilts forward, briefly seeming to wake, but still gradually tipping closer to a deadly fall. That suspense is carried through the film, but it’s much more subtle. The film is mostly comprised of bright colours, natural light, sweet smiles, neon graphics, and pop songs.
The setup is simple: A German pharmaceutical company is doing a study to produce Qratonin. (The lead scientist explains that we know melatonin as the chemical our bodies produce to help us sleep; Qratonin is what our body produces to keep us awake.) Participants are implanted with a microchip to capture the substance as their body produces it. Then they are warned that the process has one fatal side effect: Fall asleep for longer than 60 seconds and it may stop your heart.
Four medical students have been marked as eligible for the study because they already stay up all night. Jane (Care-Panisara Rikulsurakan) looks after her grandmother and studies, plus her OCD has her checking that the door is locked multiple times a night. Win (Kay Lertsittichai) parties hard to avoid his father since his mom’s death. Cin (Fern-Supanaree Sutavijitvong) is a beauty vlogger who livestreams as often as possible. Peach (Kit-Krit Jeerapattananuwong) is a loner who spends all his time gaming.
The study provides each participant with a watch that indicates how much Qratonin they’ve produced, and that is how they recognize each other on campus. When their watches reach 100%, they can go back to the lab and have the chip removed, and hundreds of thousands in cash is handed over. There are three levels to the Deep study, each with more cash incentive, and a longer period to stay awake.
While the Deep trailer builds an expectation that the film explores the tormenting side-effects of the participants’ sleep deprivation, it’s more of a look at how they become friends as they stay up together, and what they do with the cash.
Participating in Deep is only a survival tactic for one of the characters –June, whose family is way behind on home loan payments, and later cannot afford the medical bills for her grandmother’s treatment. For the other three “professional insomniacs”, the Deep money funds their recreational adventures: Win buys a fancy watch, and fantasizes about buying a motorbike. Cin spends the cash on beauty treatments, and has her eye on breast implants. Peach is already rich, living in an extravagant house, seemingly only participating to feed his gaming habits and spend time with Cin, with who he is obsessed.
Deep is mostly a game to them –The majority of the film is spent watching the four students band together to keep themselves awake. One night, they throw a pool party and dance all night. Next, they make mocktails with stimulant drugs.
While there is a sense of tension throughout the film, it’s mostly because we are anticipating a turn for the worse; waiting for the moment when the characters will drop into a world of hallucinations. When this finally happens, the crash is brief –as fleeting as the one heartbreaking line in the bridge of a pop song—blink and you’ll miss it; just as it hits, we’ve moved on to the cheerful neon chorus again.
After a near-death experience that results in them all reaching 100% for level two, the students hand back their watches and resign from the study. Declining the 1 million baht payment available if they agree to join level three of Deep. Then, following a few days of freedom and savouring sleep, the stakes are raised and Jane is forced to beg her fellow participants to re-join and take part in the study with her.
Suddenly, the students must reflect on whether the risks –increasing with each level—are worth it, and confront why they signed up for the study in the first place. There’s a sentimental newfound friendship aspect to their decisions, too, as they realize they care for each other after the difficult times they shared. What they don’t realize is that the level they’re about to jump into is way more dark and dangerous than the levels they participated in so far.
The final thirty minutes of the film is when things really spiral out of control. This is where we get the satisfactory chaos and distress that was expected. The hallucinations the participant’s experience begin to feel more real. At some points, the combination of dramatic lightning storm and soundtrack choice leans towards melodrama, but it feels believable for the students’ mindset as we are given insight into their deepest fears and darkest secrets.
By this point, the side effects and emotional impact of so many late nights under stress together have escalated, but so have the facts of the study. New information comes to light that throws everything into question: Who is really behind the study? Who can they actually trust? What is the Qratonin for? Will any of them make it out alive?
And just when things feel hopeless, the students band together for action-packed revenge which brings them closer as friends and brings their lives to where they were supposed to be. Deep is tense, leaving the audience with questions about research ethics and how long they could stay awake if they had to, ultimately ending on a happy note for everyone we grow to care about.