Ellie (Nia Long) and Marcus (Stephen Bishop), the main characters in new Netflix thriller Fatal Affair, have just moved to a new beachfront house. Ellie is a successful lawyer, Marcus is an all-round good egg. With their daughter heading off to college, it seems like life is going pretty darn well for the couple, even if their marriage has had its problems in the past.
Over at the office, Ellie is introduced to a cyber expert, David (Omar Epps). But it turns out the pair already know one another from college, and there’s an instant, mutual attraction. One that leads to something of a date, and a steamy kiss.
Ellie thinks better of it and before he can get his end away, tells David she’s not interested. To the surprise of nobody, David doesn’t take the rejection very well and the movie stalking begins. Relentless phone calls, pictures taken from afar, turning up at places he doesn’t belong, acting charming and then menacing around peripheral characters – David makes it clear he spent the 20 years post-college learning how to be a total creep. The rest of the movie shows Ellie learning how to deal with the unstable maniac that has been unleashed.
Influenced by classic stalker pictures like Sleeping With The Enemy, Pacific Heights and, most obviously, Fatal Attraction, Fatal Affair is yet another derivative, 90-minute Netflix bore-fest. Bizarrely, the only thing they forgot to include was an actual affair. Only the most glass half-full amongst us would claim a brief snog in a nightclub toilet could qualify. Still, that doesn’t stop Ellie acting as if she spent a weekend shagging an old flame while her partner was away.
It’s competently made in that basic-but-glossy way most straight-to-streamers are these days. And the cast do a perfectly reasonable job despite the risible dialogue – particularly early on when exposition is spouted with an impressive lack of subtlety. Still, Epps can do a decent menacing psycho and is remarkably convincing, even if he’s given so little to work with; while Nia Long, to her credit, keeps a straight face throughout.
On the one hand, there’s an audience for this type of stuff, and competence is pretty much all that’s required to entertain that crowd. This isn’t a film that aims to reinvent the language of cinema. However, the really interesting part is how Netflix, with their mountains of user data, are adjusting scripts and projects to maximise interest. Forget home ents vs. theatres – this is the kind of movie that shows exactly how Netflix are changing the way films get made.
For example, Fatal Affair opens with a pre-credits murder, designed to pique interest in that crucial opening three-minute stage, where the streaming giant knows their users will switch off if not immediately entertained. It’s a murder scene that’s later shoehorned into the plot in order to justify its existence.
Rather than get clever with the intros and plot beats, perhaps Netflix should focus on getting decent, original scripts into production. Or in the case of something like this, a script that has a bit more self-awareness, a sense of fun, or even just a way to surprise us a little bit. For when the output is on the level of Fatal Affair, it’s hard not to feel a bit used.
- Director: Peter Sullivan
- Starring: Nia Long, Omar Epps, Stephen Bishop
- Release date: July 16 (Netflix)