Billed as an “erotic thriller”, Deep Water can only manage vaguely titillating and mildly disconcerting moments. Concerning a husband who has the horns of a cuckhold unwillingly foisted upon him, this is meant to be a throwback to director Adrian Lyne’s well known sexy thrillers like Fatal Attraction. Since Deep Water was punted to streaming, it has the stink of a misbegotten film that was unceremoniously dumped. There’re a few decent moments in here with an oddly effective creepy visual or performance note, but overall, the experience is a limp drag.
Vic (Ben Affleck) is very rich and very married to the mercurial Melinda (Ana de Armas) with a child, Trixie (Grace Jenkins). Problematically, Melinda has romantic rendezvous with other men blatantly in front of Vic and his friends like Don (Tracy Letts) and Grant (Lil Rel Howery). Vic says Melinda is able to make decisions for herself, but their relationship just confuses their friends who think Vic is being disrespected. One night Vic says to one of Melinda’s current “friends” that he killed one of her former paramours, which horrifies everyone however Vic, weakly, says it was just a dark joke. But Melinda keeps running around with other men and more bodies start piling up.
In some ways, Deep Water is kind of the worst mystery movie ever as the killer reveals his guilt in the first 10 minutes or so. His backpedaling is never convincing, nor is it meant to be. There isn’t even a half-hearted attempt to try to link the murders to the wife for suspense, it’s pretty much blatantly from the start he’s disappearing folks who run around with his wife. Affleck’s performance is mostly very still and quiet which is an effective counterbalance to the acts of violence he engages in. It takes awhile to explicitly connect him to the various murders which is irritating as he admits it early on. There are a few little quirky performance moments that Affleck delivers here, mostly sly comments full on admitting he’s a cold-blooded murderer which slide by anyone else’s notice. Vic made his cash by selling computer chips for weaponized drones which is a shorthand way to convey he’s amoral. He even hangs out in a shed with a bunch of snails that is a creepy visual and not much else. Affleck conveys Vic loves Melinda, probably why he lets the affairs happen, so he takes his revenge on the men instead.
Armas as Melinda isn’t a particularly deep character, when Vic points out that they have a family she says it was stuff that he wanted not her, which basically sums up her entire character motivation. All she wants to do is engage in free love and not worry about the commitments of family and fidelity. She gets in some good glares at Vic that alternate between lust and disgust. She is especially evocative in a scene when Melinda invites over a former boyfriend as the husband and wife snipe at each other about their various disappointments in each other. A funny, suburban moment is when Melinda and Vic are at their kid’s soccer game and Melinda is convinced the competing kids are much older and starts asking them their age. Since the character is so thin, her actions in the finale are difficult to interpret. Surprisingly amusing is Jenkins as Trixie the daughter who repeatedly listens to annoying kid songs. She has a mid-credits stinger that is very fun which is incongruous with how dour the film’s tone is.
Howery is good at looking incredulous as Vic doesn’t do a damn thing about his wife flaunting around with other men in front of everyone. As the more suspicious associate, Letts as Don gets to be nosy about the potential murder, something every thriller needs. He’s at the centre of the movie’s really dopey climatic “action” scene that involves him speeding away in a jeep while Vic pedals after him on a bike. It is a dumb idea that Ben Affleck’s power pedaling can catch up with an automobile, so Don does some incredibly stupid and dangerous texting as the chase ends in a spectacularly underwhelming way.
Not all film’s visuals are as lame. A shot of a sunken briefcase in a pool or a toy in a tub resonate as vaguely menacing omens about the bodies that Vic is dumping in the lake. The brief clips of the murders that Vic commits are visceral and brutal, especially when he gets one of Melinda’s boyfriends alone in the woods and starts chucking rocks at him. Also, a huge chunk of the finale revolves around Vic’s inability to properly hide a corpse in deep water (hence the title…maybe?) which is done in a suitably creepy way. The closeup of Vic smiling to himself after he disposes of the body is a nice supervillain moment. The ending of the film just kind of happens as the script runs out of bodies to hump or murder.
Deep Water has two good actors who have done much better before. Both throw in bits that elevate the material but can’t fully enliven a crummy drag of a script. It could have been enjoyable in a bad movie way if it had gone full camp bombast, but Deep Water is too self-serious to be engaging.
Director: Adrian Lyne
Starring: Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas