Both Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas have moved on from their highly publicized 2020 romance (was anything else going on that year? LOL). It’s now 2022, and the movie that brought them together has only just now been
inflicted upon the world released. It seemed like a great idea on paper — a handsome Hollywood stalwart and a gorgeous rising star coming together to star in director Adrian Lyne’s return to the erotic thriller, a genre that owes much of its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s to him. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel, Deep Water had the potential for resurrecting the truly sexy Hollywood movie, the likes of which has gotten rarer and rarer over time.
Then it was delayed. Then it was delayed again. Then, after the Disney-Fox merger, it was removed from Disney’s release schedule. Then, finally, it was dumped (unceremoniously?) on Hulu . Bad signs, all.
Sometimes there’s just no helping things. Movies that sound great on paper often turn out to be huge disappointments. Despite a strong cast and a strong team behind the camera, Deep Water never quite comes together. It’s a recipe with all the right ingredients but an entirely misguided execution. Hardly more than a pale shade of erotic thrillers past, Deep Water is nothing but an empty glass.
The problem isn’t that Deep Water is bad, exactly, though it’s certainly not good. Mostly, it’s just boring. Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Affleck and de Armas, respectively) have all the trappings of a fucked-up marriage that could be compelling to dissect over the course of two hours. Bewilderingly, the director and screenwriters (Zach Helm and Sam Levinson) choose not to do that at all, instead presenting the Van Allen marriage as a straightforward case of fragile masculinity turned rancid.
Although fairly rote over 100 years into the history of cinema, even this familiar story could be interesting, if deconstructed properly or characterized thoughtfully through the Van Allens. But whatever thought Highsmith poured into this marriage in her psychological thriller — I haven’t personally read it, but I’m familiar with her work, and this kind of unraveling is what she’s known for — has been completely and utterly stripped from the film.
What you see in the trailer is pretty much what you get. Melinda cheats on Vic with younger men, in plain view of both their wealthy social circle and her own husband. Vic “allows” her to cheat because he loves her enough to “accept her for who she is” (red flag). Vic stares at Melinda a lot, which tells us that he is not, in fact, OK with her extramarital relationships. He also takes comfort with his snails (RED FLAG! RED FLAG!). More and more brazen by the day, Melinda continues to flaunt her affairs and invites her boyfriends to their friends’ parties. Vic’s stares turn threatening. Oh, dear. How could this story possibly end?
There’s a movie somewhere in there, maybe not entirely based on Highsmith’s novel, that turns Vic and Melinda’s relationship into one of competition and power dynamics — she having her affairs and bringing unsuspecting young men into their lives, he retaliating with escalating jealousy and violence, both of them exhibiting a toxic co-dependency that ends with other people hurt while they continue to up the stakes and turn each other on. That would be an interesting movie, the very definition of an erotic thriller. Deep Water as it’s been released today, however, is barely erotic and lacking in anything resembling thrills. There is no mystery to the Van Allen marriage, no twist in the plot. There’s not even a real reason given for Vic and Melinda’s continued commitment to each other except that if they got divorced, then their lives would be boring (OK, I guess?). What could have been a movie about the games husbands and wives play with each other, for better or worse, lacks the insight to explore the very relationship upon which it is centered.
As a result, Deep Water has nothing new to say about anything it depicts. It flattens complexities and inconsistencies by simply never addressing them, leaving hollow spaces and a thousand questions behind everything Vic and Melinda do, either independently or to each other. The end product is a basic depiction of a repressed man turning to violence when he is no longer able to control the woman to whom he is married. This is a story that is so well-tread and so tragically common in reality that it needs something extra to justify the existence of its latest fictional iteration. Deep Water has nothing beyond the superficial to give.
I can only conclude that this is a failure on an adaptation level. Highsmith had a uniquely penetrating way of personifying emasculated, angry men as unreliable narrators who believe they are the heroes of their own stories as their abhorrent actions incontrovertibly reveal to the reader exactly who they really are. I see the ghost of Highsmith’s style in Vic, but the awareness simply isn’t there. The movie doesn’t outright endorse Vic’s behavior, but neither does it go out of its way to show the dissonance between his perception of himself and the reality of his actions. Melinda, meanwhile, is a would-be femme fatale reduced to a caricature, an out-of-control Latina seductress eventually tamed by her cold and passionless American husband. Maybe the character wasn’t written precisely that way before de Armas was cast, but all the same: It’s a pretty bad look in a movie that is already full of bad looks.
All told, Deep Water is not the return to form that fans of erotic thrillers hoped it would be. It’s not even a worthwhile “so bad it’s good” watch: It’s too long at two hours, and the goofy shit that could’ve saved it early on doesn’t make its incomprehensible appearance until the finale. Gossip nostalgia might prompt some viewers to give Deep Water a shot, but I’m here to tell you that’s a mistake. Like Affleck and de Armas, both of whom did minimal (if any!) press to promote this movie, it’s best to let the past die and forget Deep Water ever happened.
Deep Water is available to stream on Hulu Friday, March 18.