12 Feet Deep, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, is a psychological thriller about two sisters trapped underneath a pool cover in an Olympic-sized pool for hours. The sisters have childhood trauma that has seeped into their adult lives, making them more uncomfortable acquaintances than loving family members at this point. Over the brief hour and a half runtime, old wounds are exposed, resentments revealed, and a sadistic tormentor repeatedly plays games with the women. Although touted as “Based on a true story,” there is very little truth here beyond people and animals getting trapped under covers occasionally, and diabetes is an actual condition.
Bree(Nora-Jane Noone) and Jonna(Alexandra Park) aren’t as close as they could be. They had a rough childhood, and one sister’s engagement and perceived success have sparked bitterness. So much so that Jonna reveals she threw Bree’s engagement ring in the pool, which is why the women got back into the water and got trapped. If being trapped with a moody, alcoholic sister and having no way to treat your diabetes in a pool for hours wasn’t bad enough, a sadistic janitor, Clara(Diane Farr), decides to play games with the sisters. She finds Bree’s phone and demands her passcode, which she then uses to look at pictures of the women and make judgments. She next demands Bree’s ATM PIN in exchange for their rescue but, not surprisingly, takes off to drain her bank account instead.
Unfortunately, Bree has very little money in her bank account, and the sick twist that holds their fate in her hands rants about her own problems and the unfairness of life. After a lot of shivering, talking, and desperation, Jonna decides she is tired of playing games, and she hatches an unsuccessful plan that further exacerbates their problems. She tricks Clara into putting her ear near the hole and stabs her. Enraged, the janitor turns on the pumps and injects the water with massive amounts of chlorine and churning water, making breathing difficult. As things spiral, the sisters band together and find the courage to fight. Did either Bree or Jonna escape with their lives, and what did the ending mean for their future?
The ending of 12 Feet Deep
After everything the women went through, they finally thought they might be rescued when they surrendered Bree’s engagement ring to the janitor. Instead of freeing them, she tells them she will let them out when she is “good and ready.” Bree passes out, and when she wakes, the cover is being retracted, and she hears sirens. Her fiance pulls her out of the pool, but it’s not a happy ending.
This is part of her deteriorating condition. She is hallucinating, and none of that is real. She and Jonna are still trapped and slowly freezing to death. An emotional conversation between all three women reveals what 12 Feet Deep is really about. Thinking the women have been punished enough, Clara tries to open the cover, but she has the code wrong. Instead of calling for help, she tells the women she doesn’t know the code and leaves them to die.
When Bree became unconscious, Jonna knew she had to do something to try and save them. She ripped up a metal grate in the bottom of the pool and used it to bash a hole in the cover. She got out of the pool and pulled her sister out as well. Jonna gave her the insulin shot in her purse and hoped it would bring her back. As Jonna waited for her sister to regain consciousness, Clara returned from her car with a gun to shoot them. At the last second, she changed her mind and returned the engagement ring and phone to Jonna. Jonna called 911 and told Clara to run.
Is there an alternative ending?
There is no alternative ending, but some have viewed the relatively straightforward conclusion differently. When Jonna tells her sister she saved them and got her ring back by killing the monster, some have thought that implies she literally killed Clara. This is highly unlikely, as the film’s entire point is finding the courage to slay your inner demons. Although Bree does kill her father, Jonna’s monsters are specific to her. She needed to find a way to love her sister and herself, stop viewing herself as a victim, and embrace forgiveness. She needed to control her anger and react calmly.
The real meaning of the film
All of the women talk about monsters at one time or another. 12 Feet Deep is really about slaying dragons and defeating your personal demons. The sisters talk about their father and how his abuse haunts them. Bree faired better, but Jonna still sees monsters everywhere. They have led to addiction and depression. At the film’s end, Bree admits that she killed their father and effectively slayed her monster. She did it to protect her sister from further abuse. That is what the scars on her hand and arm are from that we see prominently at the beginning of the film. By remaining calm, keeping her temper in check, and forgiving Clara, Jonna can slay her demons and is on the road to recovery.
The janitor wants them to believe she isn’t a monster for what she did to them. She needs them to believe she is a good person who made a series of terrible decisions. Clara doesn’t really care about their opinion. She is trying to convince herself. We never learn what Clara did to end up in prison, but based on her comments, I suspect it was something like drunk driving that resulted in someone’s death. Possibly even a family member. Everything she does to the women is out of anger and, later, desperation to avoid going back to prison.
What happens to the janitor at the end of 12 Feet Deep?
The janitor, Clara, is angry because she was fired at the film’s beginning for stealing. As a result, the parole is mad at the world and taking it out on Bree and Jonna. She torments the women because she is a petty woman who hates what they represent. After the sisters escape, Jonna gives Bree’s engagement ring back to her, previously in Clara’s possession. She then forgives Clara and tells her to leave before the ambulance and police arrive.
Is the film based on actual events?
While there is a blurb at the beginning indicating 12 Feet Deep is based on a true story, there is no single event that it is based on. Like other survival films like Frozen and Fall, this film was only inspired by things that could happen. Unlike Open Water, which is much more deeply rooted in truth, this film is not based on fact. In interviews, the writer has said the story came from his imagination and not something that happened to him or anyone he knew.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.