The days of the erotic thriller are largely gone. Lost within the movement away from adult fare is this sub-genre getting made less and less. So, when Deep Water was first announced, it was a potential ray of sunshine. When the cast and crew were put together, it only became more exciting, fueled by the leads developing a real life romance. Then, the delays began (partly pandemic related, of course), followed by Disney shipping this off to Hulu as a bit of excess from their Fox purchase. So, the film hits the streaming service this weekend devoid of any buzz, with the sense that something went wrong. Having seen the flick, I can attest to it not being bad, but missing the ingredient that’s needed to make the recipe as delicious as it could have been.
Deep Water has its moments, but it simmers when it should sizzle. For numerous reasons, things stay stuck closer to neutral than high gear, which leaves you wanting more. Especially considering the potential of the material, it’s such a letdown. There just isn’t really any heat in this movie, which you really need to buy into the premise, which feels dated (the update of the over a half-century old Patricia Highsmith novel isn’t enough of an update, as you’ll discover). What you have here is something fine for streaming viewing, but lacking the zing that should have made it a must-watch.
From the outside, the Van Allen family appears to have it all. Married couple Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas) have money, due to Vic’s invention of a computer chip used in drone warfare. They’re also the life of the party whenever they gather with their friends, due to Melinda’s flirty nature. In fact, she’s more than flirty, as she outright flaunts infidelities in front of everyone. Vic’s friends Grant (Lil Rel Howery) and Jonas (Dash Mihok) worry about Vic, but he barely seems to mind. Do they have an arrangement? Or, is something perhaps more ominous at play?
At one of the parties, Vic claims to one of Melinda’s flings that he’s murdered a prior boy toy. The town assumes it’s a dark joke, but Melinda, as well as crime novelist neighbor Don Wilson (Tracy Letts) isn’t so sure. When another body is discovered, suspicion builds. Would Vic really kill? Why are they in this relationship? These are interesting questions, but despite strong individual moments, it builds to a rather flat conclusion.
Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas are underserved by the material, but they both do what they can. Affleck underplays Vic’s more ominous qualities, even bringing in some humor. This is a potentially complex character, but the script refuses to go the extra mile. As for de Armas, she looks great and knows how to vamp, but the role is barely developed. They also have too mild a chemistry for the sparks that need to fly. The supporting players are utterly wasted, especially Tracy Letts, who has a ludicrous role. In addition to the aforementioned Lil Rel Howery and Dash Mihok, the cast includes the likes of Rachel Blanchard, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi, Grace Jenkins, Brendan Miller, Finn Wittrock, and more.
Director Adrian Lyne has aced this sort of material before, so the fact that Deep Water underwhelms is even more disappointing for his presence. He does what he can, but it never fully comes together. More of the blame likely resides with co-writers Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, who stumble in adapting the Highsmith source material. In the original text, the subject of a divorce was noteworthy. Here, it seems just lazy that it’s really never on the table. It’s just one of many examples of fumbling the potential within. Plus, Lyne, for all his credit in making it look good, just lops off the third act, which means the film just stops, without ending. It’s actually stunning that the movie chooses to end where it does.
Deep Water is frustrating because who wouldn’t want to see a great new erotic thriller? This one had potential, and it even approaches that sometimes, but once it leans more into the thriller territory, all is lost. The novel’s ending is arguably worse, and it’s possible that was originally shot and then just cut, but what we’re left here feels incomplete. In a way, it fits a missed opportunity like this.