Deep Water, following a rocky release schedule hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, finally landed on Hulu this weekend. It is a less-than steamy erotic thriller from Adrian Lyne, a director known for his work in the genre (most notably the 1987 film Fatal Attraction). The film is Lyne’s first crack at directing in 20 years, and it stars former couple Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck as spouses whose marriage is on the rocks.
Vic (Affleck), a retired microchip engineer, has tolerated a tacit agreement with Melinda (de Armas) in which she escapes their passionless marriage by making “friends” with a few local bachelors. Her flirtations and flings are open secrets to the couple’s social circle. And the rumors of Melinda’s extramarital affairs turn to rumors of a more insidious kind when Vic vaguely threatens one of Melinda’s suitors, informing him that he murdered one of Melinda’s former flings.
One could make the case, in defense of Deep Water, that Hollywood just doesn’t make movies like this anymore. The heyday of the sexy psychological thriller was the ’80s-’90s, and the 21st century hasn’t seen such movies get a whole lot of traction. Movies like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct were top-10 grossers at the annual box office. But by the early 2000s, the fad had all but ended. And I suppose there’s few better than Lyne to return to spark some life into the genre.
Of course, the film being dumped on Hulu with little-to-no fanfare doesn’t help the cause any. And the film itself is dotted with issues which limit the ceiling of its excitement.
For one, the world of this story is so insular that it might as well take place in a snow globe. One filled with 30-something couples who party every weekend and are very invested in Vic and Melinda’s private lives. There is an unnaturalness by which everyone outside of Vic and Melinda interact with Vic and Melinda which adds (what I believe to be an unintentional) friction to these scenes.
In a broader sense, the story, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, is intriguing. The bold yet veiled threats which essentially introduce Vic’s character set the stage for a less-than mysterious series of tense interactions between Vic and various men. But that the most thrill these scenes can provide are stern glances from Affleck from a distance while Melinda dances with a guy act as a deflation device for this tension.
These blocking choices hinder Affleck’s ability to be truly menacing. His take on Vic is more sad-sack than anything else. And while Armas gives a lot to this character who reaches desperately, albeit selfishly, for liberation from the confines of her marriage, this is far from her best work.
Ultimately, Deep Water is more dour than it is sexy, more somber than it is thrilling. Its most dangerous and titillating moments are shot rather staid. The most exciting stretch the film manages to produce is basically a PSA against texting and driving. Deep Water doesn’t do its genre much justice — far from a rallying cry for an erotic thriller renaissance.
Deep Water: C+
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