At first look you would expect a movie like “Deep Water” to be getting a lot more attention. After all, it’s led by A-lister Ben Affleck and rising star Ana de Armas. It’s an erotic psychological thriller directed by Adrian Lyne, the guy behind 1987’s not-so-great but wildly popular “Fatal Atrraction” and it’s shoddy (but profitable) siblings, 1993’s “Indecent Proposal” and 2002’s “Indecent Proposal”. Surprisingly, this is Lyne’s first film in twenty years.
Originally set for release in November 2020 by 20th Century Studios, the film was hit with several delays during the pandemic before being pulled from Disney’s theatrical release schedule. With little in terms of promotion, the movie debuts this weekend as a Hulu streaming exclusive . After seeing it, you can kinda get why it has been shuffled around so much. At the same time there are some interesting (and admittedly unexpected) strokes that grab your attention.
Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Affleck and de Armas) are an unhappily married couple who have lost whatever spark originally brought them together. Vic made a fortune designing a computer chip for military drones. Now retired, he spends his time riding his mountain bike and raising snails down in the garage (yep….snails). Melinda loves drinking and gratuitously ‘flirting’ at parties with a number of male ‘friends’, often right in front her husband. Vic is rightfully incensed, but he’s no angel. To him Melinda is a possession, and his anger isn’t flowing from a broken heart.
Despite having lots of money, a big social circle, and a lovely young daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins), Vic and Melinda’s marriage seems doomed from the first moment we first lay eyes on them. It only sours from there. And it’s more than just sleeping in separate rooms or volleying insults at each other. Their relationship is toxic. Vic’s best friends (Lil Rel Howery and Dash Mihok) know that Melinda’s into more that just innocent frolicking, but Vic brushes off their warnings. And as things slowly fester, the couple’s depraved mind-games soon turn deadly.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s best-selling novel, “Deep Water” (written for the screen by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson) puts us in the company of two truly awful people and leaves us there to observe as their relationship goes south. Truthfully, the movie is more trashy than erotic and more psychopathic than psychological. At times it seems to be perfectly content with being just that. Other times you get the sense that Lyne might be after something else.
Perhaps what’s most surprising is how straightforward the story turns out to be. I was expecting a movie plump with twists, turns and surprises, but there really aren’t many. Melinda is the biggest enigma and reading her is next to impossible. Is she licentious or psychotic? Some of both? The film doesn’t offer much clarity although it leaves you with a vague sense of who she may be. To be honest, the camera often seems more interested in her looks than the script. More emphasis is put into admiring de Armas’ beauty than really giving Melinda some much needed depth.
Affleck gets a little more to work with as the film is focused on and mostly seen from Vic’s perspective. Affleck is both cryptic and thoroughly convincing. And he and de Armas have a striking chemistry (an actual off-screen romance developed during the shooting but has sense ended). Tracy Letts isn’t so lucky. He plays the couple’s friend (I think) Don, who doesn’t trust Vic from the start. He’s a woefully underwritten character with actions and motivations that make no sense whatsoever. He’s even more of a head-scratcher in the bonkers final act where things really get ridiculous.
After reading all that, “Deep Water” probably sounds like a mess, and it kinda is. There is an alluring quality to its trashy story, and I loved the unexpected bites of pitch black humor which caught me off guard every time. But its lack of compelling twists (or really any twists whatsoever) zaps the movie of some needed energy. And while the wonky final 15 minutes tries to compensate, it ends on a head-scratching note – one that doesn’t do the already shaky movie any favors. “Deep Water” premieres this Friday (March 18th) on Hulu.