Deep Water

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Adrian Lyne


Ana de Armas Ben Affleck Tracy Letts


An erotic thriller? In this economy?


Sexy, twisted and knowing.

In Retrospect.

A joy from start to finish.

Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck play spouses engrossed in a twisted game of cat and mouse in director Adrian Lyne’s long-awaited return.

Fans of the genre or otherwise, most of us must have at some point in the last twenty years wondered: what happened to the erotic thriller? Ubiquitous in American commercial cinema of the 1980s and 1990s with films like 9½ Weeks, Basic Instinct, Sliver or Disclosure, it has now all but disappeared.

While real heads know that delightfully camp variations on the genre can be found in contemporary African American cinema (see: Obsessed, The Perfect Guy, When The Bough Breaks) and in the DTV market, even the best titles there cannot reach the heights or elaborate production values of, say, Fatal Attraction or Indecent Proposal.

One reason for this lack could simply be the extended creative absence of the director of these two latter films, the British filmmaker Adrian Lyne. One of the great masters of the American erotic thriller, Lyne showed, with just a handful of films, how Hollywood could bring sex and lust to the big screen in sumptuous, stylish fashion.

Now Lyne is back, but his new film Deep Water isn’t just a return to old obsessions and hangups, or a mere victory lap. The film instead appears to have been made with the understanding that if we haven’t seen erotic thrillers in a while, that may also be because what constituted great (erotic) stakes in the late 20th century would seem relatively undramatic in our more sexually liberated age. Cheating on your husband, like letting your wife sleep with Robert Redford just once in exchange for a million dollars, simply does not seem that big of a deal in 2022.

Consequently, and to our great joy, Deep Water opts for a refreshingly self-aware take on the erotic thriller, where the hot wife does not hide her extra-marital affairs, her rich husband does not fight with her about them, and neither ever face the consequences of their actions. From the very beginning of the film, Ana de Armas’ Melinda is seen flirting with a younger man (Brendan Miller) at a party whilst her straight-faced hubby, Ben Affleck’s Vic, looks on.

When their eyes meet, she does not stop, and he does not look away. Friends and acquaintances present have noticed Melinda’s rather adulterous behaviour, but the couple does not care: they live in a world where pretence and reputation do not matter; the only thing that does is money. When Vic tells a guest, writer Don Wilson (Tracy Letts), that he designed a key microchip used in military drones, his wife Melinda exclaims that his responsibility in drone killings is nothing next to his fortune; she is trying to embarrass her husband, but she also appears to be telling the truth. When first introduced to him, Wilson mentions a persistent rumour that Vic killed a man who used to be “friends” with Melinda. True or not, one would think that the police would at least talk to Vic about it. They never do.

Following a simple plot progression, Deep Water amuses not so much with the shocking twists and turns of the classic erotic thriller (though there are plenty of those, too), but rather with titillating suspense about just how deep this supposed impunity goes, on both sides of the marriage. Is Melinda really sleeping with these beautiful young men? The question could be considered irrelevant since there is enough evidence to call these at least “emotional affairs.” In any case, it is soon superseded in the viewers’ minds by another more pressing one: could Vic really be a killer?

Lyne’s genius here is to play with the very function and charge of the innuendo, the allusion, the hint – that staple of the erotic film, here repurposed as the central mechanism of a thriller (a smart move, in an age where so many people apparently deem sex scenes “unnecessary,” and in a generally sex-starved film landscape). Killing and longing intertwine – unsurprisingly, the film is adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith, author of the similarly twisted The Talented Mr Ripley.

On a moment to moment basis, the film therefore continually and intentionally veers between the overt and the subtle, a remarkable framework that allows two wonderful and wonderfully committed actors to deliver performances by turns nuanced and hilariously big. Not since Gone Girl have we had the pleasure to witness Affleck’s tremendous micro-acting, Vic’s mask of detachment breaking in small, controlled ways in reaction to Melinda’s shenanigans or pointed remarks.

De Armas’ full bodied turn as the life-hungry Melinda stands in sharp contrast to his extremely subdued take on this crushingly dull character; the moment when he finally does blow up is one of great, darkly comic relief. But the veneer of subtlety and things unproven or unsaid gloriously breaks to reveal the obvious more than once before that: back home from who knows where, Melinda one day snipes at Vic, “if you were married to anyone else you’d be so fucking bored, you’d kill yourself.”

Lyne has not at all forgotten how to turn on his audience, but most remarkable about Deep Water is the fact that beyond being a sexy and gruesome thriller, it is also an absolute riot.

Published 16 Mar 2022

Tags: Adrian Lyne Ana de Armas Ben Affleck


An erotic thriller? In this economy?


Sexy, twisted and knowing.

In Retrospect.

A joy from start to finish.

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