Ana de Armas as Melinda Van Allen in Deep Water.
Photo: Claire Folger/20th Century Studios
WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
A married couple who have fallen out of love with each other begin playing deadly mind games against one another that begin seeing those around them dying.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Deep Water has almost been mythologised in popular culture.
The film that brought about one of the most talked-about celebrity couples
during the pandemic – Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas – felt almost like we had to
wait for it to be released for years. The result of this was a film that feels
like it had a lot of potential but very little pay-off.
The film tells the story of a couple. There is Vic (Ben
Affleck), a man who created the computer chip in killer drones and has since
retired early. He fills his time with various hobbies like editing a poetry
magazine, collecting snails and spending time with his daughter. Then there’s his
young wife, Melinda (Ana de Armas), who enjoys having affairs with younger men
and flaunting around their small town. However, when the young men that Melinda
dates start going missing, things start becoming tricky.
The film is directed by Adrian Lyne, who is known for
directing erotic thrillers such as Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and
Unfaithful. Lyne’s work has taken a genre that was often treated like the
trashy stepchild of the thriller genre and often elevated it to art. He made
them films worth talking about. Deep Water was hailed as his return to the
director’s chair after twenty years, and unfortunately, if this is his
comeback, it is rather tepid.
Deep Water never quite reaches the potential of what it is
aiming for. The film is based on the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (who
wrote the novels behind popular films such as The Talented Mr Ripley and Carol)
and adapted for the screen by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) and Sam
Levinson (Euphoria). However, something in the adaptation fails in translating
the sense of urgency and mystery in the film.
There is very little mystery. Shortly into the film, we
watch Vic’s friends warn him about Melinda’s affairs, which he already knows
about, and then we watch as he threatens Melinda’s boyfriend by telling him
that he killed her last boyfriend. After that, we watch as man after man gets
sucked into Melinda’s web only to end up dead. And while there is a little
suspense as to Melinda’s involvement in this and only one person who suspects
Vic, it still does not feel like there are any high stakes in this film. Is Vic
going to go to jail? It never feels like it. There are no smart twists or
shocking moments that have us questioning everything like Gone Girl; it just
feels like we are watching a rich man get away with killing people he deems as
threats over and over again. What is the commentary behind this? What are we
supposed to take from this film?
And if the film is not much of a thriller, it also doesn’t
feel very erotic. There are limited sex scenes, with most of them alluded to or
happening off-camera, and it does not feel particularly sexy. The only way that
eroticism seems to fall into the film’s description is that Melinda is having
affairs, and it is alluded to that she gets aroused by Vic’s jealousy. This is
not clear. But I also got the sense that even if Melinda was not having
affairs, Vic still would have a reason to commit these murders.
Perhaps as a way to talk about the inequality in their
relationship, Vic also seems like a fuller character than Melinda. Almost the
entire film is told from Vic’s perspective, and the little that we see from
Melinda’s point of view only prove to serve Vic more. Other than that, we don’t
much about Melinda other than the fact that she enjoys having affairs with
younger men and that she does not seem to enjoy the limitations of being a wife
and a mother. There is no full reason why she decided to stay with Vic or why
they don’t get a divorce. Also, no one suspects Vic of murdering Melinda’s
boyfriends other than one person; I feel like he is an obvious suspect?
Ben Affleck does a good job of zeroing in on the smarmy
charm that made his character in Gone Girl so unforgettable. Ana de Armas,
sultry and enchanting, makes it easy to see why so many people are drawn to
her. And while both lead actors and the supporting actors (in particular, Tracy
Letts) do amazing jobs, the material just does not feel strong enough that it’s
full credit to their filmographies. One cannot help but wonder that if the same
film was made with two unknown actors, it might not have gotten any attention
Deep Water had the makings of a compelling erotic thriller,
but with a lacklustre storyline and lack of stakes, the film felt more like a
case study than an interesting tale of murder and intrigue.