After a twenty-year hiatus with Unfaithful, Adrian Lyne has returned in the director’s chair to give Disney its first erotic thriller since 1994’s Color of Night, with Deep Water. Delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic until the studio decided to dump it on Hulu (and Amazon Prime Video for international audiences), Deep Water is the perfect reminder for audiences that Lyne remains the master of sexual tension and erotic romance, even though it’s a vastly different film from, say, Fatal Attraction, 9 ½ Weeks, and Indecent Proposal.
Those who say that the film lacks eroticism and/or thrills aren’t looking in the right place. It’s not about the amount of sex (or infidelity) that Lyne throws at you, but about the mounting sexual tension boiling inside both protagonists, Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) and Melinda Van Allen (Ana de Armas). They’re a married couple who only stay together because of their child, Trixie (Grace Jenkins). But unfortunately, there’s no love found inside their marriage anymore, and Melinda goes out with anyone she wants, as long as she doesn’t desert her family. So naturally, this causes Vic to become jealous and joke on Melinda’s lovers that he is responsible for the death of one of her wife’s past friends, Martin McRae. But when Vic’s jealousy for Melinda’s ever-growing passionate romances starts to stir, his wife’s lovers mysteriously disappear (or die). Vic then becomes the number one suspect of their disappearance (or death) through Melinda and author Don Wilson’s (Tracy Letts) eyes.
Lyne adapts from Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel of the same name (which was already adapted into a feature film in 1981, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert as Vic and Melinda…but good luck at finding a copy of this anywhere online and physically). Screenwriters Zach Helm and Sam Levinson take many creative liberties at changing the book’s ending to a more convenient (and ridiculous) one. Not that the book’s ending made any cohesive sense whatsoever, but it was the next logical step in Vic’s descent into madness. The film’s ending is the readaptation’s biggest weakness, quickly turning a gripping, at times frightening, erotic thriller, into a Lifetime original. It ultimately hinders Lyne’s meticulous drama was brilliantly set up during the first and second acts and becomes an entirely different film during its last ten minutes. No, I went from being wholly transfixed at Ben Affleck’s best performance in a while to going WHAT?!? in a matter of seconds. It’s a perfect example of jumping the shark and ending the movie most unnecessarily.
Because what comes before the final act is absolutely brilliant. Yes, you’ve heard me, brilliant. Its first two acts contain a lot of sexual tension, which is even more effective than Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Affleck barely needs to do anything to express the amount of affection he has for Melinda. Look into his eyes, and you’ll see the film’s entire tension right there. Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career (yes, his career), closely giving his portrayal of Batman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and his appearance in David Fincher’s Gone Girl a run for his money. He is absolutely chilling, even when he doesn’t do anything. You never know if he’s joking or not (he always has a deadpan attitude), but he’s even scarier when he confronts Melinda’s lovers, who are played by Jacob Elordi, Finn Wittrock, and Brendan C. Miller. When he tells the story to Joel Dash (Miller) on how he killed Martin McRae, you have no idea if he’s joking. Even when they appear to have “found the killer,” the look in Affleck’s eyes says different.
And he’s matched by an equally magnifying female lead in Ana de Armas, in complete control of her emotions and what Vic should see for his marriage to be more passionate. But what she sees as “passion” is what Vic sees as “revenge,” and that’s where the film reaches its dramatic apex in fascinating ways. Had the film stayed in that direction during its final act (and possibly left the ending) unchanged, I would’ve been one of the few (it seems) who would’ve hailed Lyne’s return to cinema as a masterpiece. Instead, what comes before the ending is not only startling in its suspense but contains incredible acting from the two leads that make every single scene with the duo as deliciously erotic as possible. Once again, the eroticism doesn’t come from its (poorly-shot and edited) sex sequences, nor Ana de Armas drunk singing “Via Con Me” while playing the piano (even though that scene is quite funny), but from the sexual tension that mounts between the two actors. Once you peer through their gaze, the film’s entire “eroticism” and “thrills” become apparent, and the film more compelling.
It’s just a shame that the movie ends on an extremely sour note. I get that the book’s ending was controversial, but, as I mentioned, it was the next logical step in Vic’s descent into madness. Unfortunately, the film’s ending is too convenient and completely derails the incredibly charged sexual tension both Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas have during the picture’s entirety. I’m not a big fan of erotic thrillers, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Adrian Lyne’s films, which are undoubtedly erotic and thrilling. Deep Water is no exception, and I hope to see him make another film again.
Deep Water is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and Amazon Prime Video internationally.