Long before erotic thrillers stopped being erotic or thrilling, British director Adrian Lyne turned the genre into an artform – hiding a lot more than 50 shades of subtlety behind sweaty popcorn potboilers like 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. Now returning after 20 years away from the camera, Lyne directs one of the most baffling movies of his career – somehow both smarter and more stupid than any of his previous hits.
Arriving years late for the perfect PR circus that should have helped it sell tickets to the real-life relationship drama of stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas (the tabloids now pinning all their hopes on Bennifer announcing a Gigli sequel…), the 2019 film is finally ready for release. Full of sex without ever being sexy, and twisted into the shape of a thriller without having any actual intrigue or suspense, it still stands up as the kind of adult relationship drama that’s gone out of fashion – just as trashy as it is complex.
Adapted from the novel by Patricia Highsmith (author of classics like Strangers On A Train and The Talented Mr Ripley), Adrian Lyne teases out as much oddness as possible, ignoring the mystery plot whenever he can focus on the weird relationships, and ignoring those whenever he can just film Affleck looking sad.
Built almost entirely out of long looks (through windows, out of doorways, over shoulders), Deep Water follows Vic (Affleck) and Melinda (de Armas) as they toy with each other’s emotions on the skids of a broken marriage. She flirts with everyone she sees, and he seems to enjoy watching her do it – right up to the point where he sort of hates it. For most of the film, it’s not too clear how open or closed Vic and Melinda’s relationship really is, with occasional affairs rekindling the couple’s own passion, and scenes of intimacy ranging from angry blow jobs in the car to resentful leg-lotioning in separate beds. Does Melinda really hate Vic as much as she tells other people? Do the other men know what’s going on? Why does Vic keep running off into his shed to play with his creepy pet snails?
More importantly, is Melinda really cheating on Vic, or is he imagining it all? The great strength of Lyne’s adaption is that he covers so much of Highsmith’s plot in abstraction – with unreliable flashbacks bringing everything Vic sees or thinks into question. The moral stickiness behind a failing open relationship quickly darkens as Vic starts reacting violently to everyone Melinda flirts with, turning the film into a crime story with deliberately fuzzy edges.
Deaths that might be murders and murders that might not be deaths start dragging the film onto shaky ground in the last act, and none of the big events land successfully as it all becomes slightly ridiculous. Daftness, in fact, is present throughout the whole film (especially in the wooden performances of the two stars), but there’s something endlessly fascinating about the world Lyne has built.
Set in a weird, rich environment full of empty mansions and twilight garden parties, Deep Water is colour-graded in a steely grey to match the murkiness of Vic and Melinda’s minds. Lynne doesn’t seem especially bothered about the murders or the sex or whatever’s supposed to be happening to drive the plot along – but he’s clearly obsessed with the strange, cruel, confused couple at the centre of his own story. They end up love/hating their way through a very European, very 1990s erotic thriller that feels quite out of place on a streamer in 2022.
- Director: Adrian Lyne
- Starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracey Letts
- Release date: March 18 (Amazon Prime Video)