DEEP WATER (2022)
A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs in order to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers.
With his first movie in 20 years, director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction) dives back into something familiar with the erotic psychological thriller Deep Water.
Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas) Van Allen are a married couple in Louisiana whose relationship is hanging on by a thread. The only thing keeping them together is a tenuous agreement that Melinda can galavant around with other men, just so long as she doesn’t abandon Vic and their daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins).
Iornically, the performances of Affleck and de Armas and the complex relationship between their characters are what keep Deep Water from careening off into utter disbelief. For about two-thirds of this throwback thriller’s runtime, the twisty, fascinating, and downright confusing dance Vic and Melinda have between each other is enough to keep audiences engaged. It paves over some of the rougher parts of what’s generally a flawed screenplay by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (Euphoria), adapting the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith.
Just watching the two of them interact is entertaining enough on its own. It’s clear they have real chemistry and that’s what makes these characters’ relationship so beguiling. Affleck and de Armas dated in real life shortly after Deep Water was shot in early-2020, ahead of its intended November release until it was shelves for 16-months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and 20th Century Fox’s merger with Disney. By the time the movie actually came out two years later, the lead actor’s courtship was long over, which adds another meta-textual and psychological layer to the core relationship at the heart of the film.
When bad things start happening to Melinda’s flings (disappearances, drownings, etc), fingers are pointed at Vic being the cause of the problem, initially in jest. He even implicates himself early on, at a party, by telling Melinda’s latest boyfriend that he killed one of her previous lovers. It’s hard to discern what’s true and what’s a game between them.
Tracy Letts pops up as a mystery writer called Don Wilson, and it’s not apparent why or how he belongs to this group of friends other than because the story needs him to be there to start putting together potential clues. This is one of the many nonsensical elements of Deep Water, most of which start piling up in the last act. Characters make one borderline unbelievable decision after another. Threads disappear and reappear.
Most of the problems are with the script, but there are some glaring missteps from the direction and with technical aspects. A few odd decisions are made in regards to the look of a couple of scenes, but the storytelling decisions are ultimately what yanks us out of the story.
People may complain this is a failure on Lyne’s part to live up to the expectations his return sets in people’s minds. And in many ways it is. Deep Water is his comeback after two decades, and he chose to make another movie in a genre he had a big hand in popularising in the 1980s and 1990s. And it’s a genre that’s been long out of favour in Hollywood for a number of reasons.
However, the wackier story elements actually feel right at home with some of his previous works. Unfaithful (2002) received mixed reviews at the time, but it was a hit and Diane Lane earned a much deserved Academy Award nomination, so it’s now remembered fondly. Indecent Proposal (1993) and 9½ Weeks (1986) also have bizarre narratives driving them. If anything, the lack of focus in Deep Water’s story and Lyne’s direction marks the major difference between this and his previous films.
A lot of people were hoping this would be a big success because it might have led to a resurgence of erotic thrillers aimed at adults. I hope we get more from this genre in the future, and I even hope Lyne gets another crack at it. I mostly enjoyed this dip back into the waters of an erotic thriller. But it doesn’t completely work, and that’s a shame if it means we won’t be 35getting more anytime soon.
USA • AUSTRALIA | 2022 | 115 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Adrian Lyne.
writers: Zach Helm & Sam Levinson (based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith).
starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, Dash Mihok, Finn Wittrock, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi & Rachel Blanchard.