‘Deep Water’ Is An Erotic Thriller That’s Neither Erotic Nor Thrilling

Ben Affleck glowers, Ana de Armas writhes, and neither of them can save this movie.

Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu

When the trailer for Deep Water dropped on Valentine’s Day, it seemed like the film, which stars former flames Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, might bring with it a certain voyeuristic pleasure. Based on the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith and directed by Adrian Lyne, who helmed Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, the psychological thriller held a promise of intrigue, at the very least. The actual film, which will debut on Hulu rather than in theaters, is confounding and almost completely devoid of chemistry between its leads. 

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DEEP WATER ★1/2 (1.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Adrian Lyne
Written by: Zach Helm, Sam Levinson
Starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, Dash Mihok, Finn Wittrock, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi, Rachel Blanchard
Running time: 115 mins.

Affleck plays Vic Van Allen, a wealthy retiree who invented the computer chip that goes inside drones and who keeps snails as a hobby. De Armas is his wild card wife Melinda, who demands to be the center of attention at all times and has frequent dalliances with other men. Vic, who is not unaware of his wife’s indiscretions, spends his time taking care of the couple’s precocious daughter, Trixie, and going to parties with his wealthy friends. The community, which appears to be in New Orleans, is aware of Melinda’s predilection for young, floppy-haired men and when Vic jokes that he murdered one of her former lovers the rumor spreads with a hint of suspicion. 

The story, adapted to modern day from Highsmith’s novel, is interesting enough, especially as Vic’s murderous tendencies begin to take hold. The problem is that Deep Water is framed as an erotic thriller and it’s just not. The sex is not sexy and it’s often uncomfortable to watch Affleck and De Armas, who are completely unlikely as a married couple, feign intimacy. De Armas writhes her body around in every scene, making Melinda into some kind of sex addict who has a new guy every few days. It doesn’t track. The point seems to be that Vic and Melinda are both easily bored and need the rush of bad behavior to keep them going—a sort of game play that bonds them as a couple. But Vic is not a very good murderer and he’s even worse at covering his tracks, and Melinda is that drunk, flirtatious girl everyone avoids at parties.  

To Affleck’s credit, he does his best with the role, which mostly involves him glowering in the shadows. He’s a good actor and it’s likely that Deep Water was better on paper than its resulting film. De Armas, who was compelling in Knives Out and will play Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, relies too much on her looks here, making the performance so physical it lacks emotion. What is Melinda thinking? Does she care about anything, particularly her own daughter? We have no idea. The solid supporting cast includes Tracy Letts as the couple’s neighbor, who begins to investigate Vic, and Lil Rel Howery as Vic’s pot smoking pal Grant. Melinda’s doomed lovers include Finn Wittrock, Jacob Elordi and Brendan C. Miller, who hardly get their due onscreen.

The film’s climax, which comes out of nowhere, is preposterous. Scenes appear to be missing, as if the movie’s run time was forcibly cut down by the studio, and there is no earned emotional payoff to anything. Why should we care about this couple at all? In fact, by the end you’ll care more about Trixie’s new puppy than any human character in Deep Water. It’s unclear what happened to derail the film so aggressively and where the fault lies. It’s not exactly a dull watch—two hours pass quickly—but it’s a purposeless one. Everyone involved, especially the puppy, deserved better. 

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Deep Water’ Is An Erotic Thriller That’s Neither Erotic Nor Thrilling