Adrian Lyne is the king of erotic thrillers. In his film, the sanctity of marriage and the home is constantly under assault. This usually come via the temptation of passionate nonmarital sex, think Unfaithful or Fatal Attraction. Deep Water, Lyne's first movie in two decades, first appears to be a similar tale but it lacks the building tension of those other films. While I hoped for a return for Lyne, Deep Water is one of his lesser efforts.
The film is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel. The central couple is Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas). They live in a gorgeous house in New Orleans with their daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins). Their life looks idyllic. They are surrounded by friends, including Lil Rel Howery, Devyn A. Tyler, Dash Mihok, and Jade Fernandez., for whom they throw parties with live music and full catering. Vic raises snails and rides mountain bikes for his hobbies. Melinda has affairs with men as her hobby. She brings these men to those parties and flaunts them in front of Vic. Her current toy when the movie opens is Joel (Brendan Miller). Joel thinks Vic and Melinda have an understanding.
It seems like Joel is right at first, given that Vic gazes at them through windows and around corners. It almost seems like he is turned on by it. But when Joel and Vic have a moment alone, Vic threatens Joel's life and claims that he murdered the last man Melinda was sleeping with. This is the first of many cracks in the facade that Vic tries to keep up. He didn't kill the man but he wanted to and it is clear he is ready to stop Melinda's hobby.
The screenplay by Zach Helm and Euphoria's Sam Levinson never makes it clear how these two work. The story also never makes it clear what is at stake here. Things begin to lean into thriller territory in the second half but the film feels inert, the tension just isn't there. The casting is also a little off. Vic is written as someone more bookish and nervous but Affleck plays him cool and brooding. De Armas is sexy and compelling as Melinda but the script undercuts her performance by making it unclear what she really wants. Does she want to destroy her marriage, force something out of Vic, or just get her kicks.
Deep Water wants to be an erotic thriller but the thrills are lacking and the erotic motivations are unclear. As Vic becomes a murderer, Melinda seems indifferent. Vic barely covers up his actions. The changed ending from the book robs the story of a final punch. All of these elements amount to a confusing film. While the film is sloppy, it is nice to see an adult thriller get made. I wish the film had been better because I was primed for a return of this subgenre.