Moviegoer: Deep Water

Ben Affleck in Deep Water.

Sexy thriller is about as deep as a kiddie pool

By Diana Beechener

Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck: The Last Duel) invented a chip used in military drones and retired before 50. Now, he spends his days biking around town, playing with his young daughter, and stalking his wife. You see, Vic’s wife Melinda (Ana de Armas: No Time to Die) has a wandering eye. She spends her days finding young men with whom she can have very public affairs.

         Though Vic despises the men Melinda entertains, he finds her tantrums and provocations enticing. The duo battles it out as Melinda’s dalliances become more and more public. But when her latest beau ends up dead at a friend’s house party, Vic looks guilty.  

Can these two find common ground that doesn’t involve sex, lies, and possibly murder?

Playing out like a Cinemax After Dark production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, Deep Water works best when you view it as a comedy. Barely written, indifferently acted, and downright silly, this flick isn’t worthy of the ’90s-era sexy thrillers it’s desperately hoping to copy.

Director Adrian Lyne, who is probably best known for his erotic thrillers 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction, seems to have phoned it in for this deeply unappealing, tepid whodunit. There are a few interesting shots that indicate that Lyne was briefly awake at the wheel, but everything from story to performance is such a massive failure that it seems little wonder that Disney pulled Deep Water from theatrical release and cast it to Hulu, where it can be watched while you fold fitted sheets or play Wordle on your phone.

Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, writers Sam Levinson (Euphoria) and Zach Helm (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) manage to strip away all subtly and character development from the script. We understand that Vic and Melinda are unhappy, but how they met and why they got together is never explored. They’re just miserable people who like to taunt each other. But the poor character work means that Affleck has little to do but grit his teeth and look resigned while poor de Armas, who proved to be a wonderful lead in Knives Out, is reduced to every “promiscuous woman” stereotype Levine can conjure. Melinda is constantly stripping, engaging in semi-public sex, and throwing tantrums, because the “sexy baby” type is evidently the best Levine could do when it comes to writing for a woman.

While Highsmith’s novel, which is cited by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn as an inspiration, is the story of creeping tension between a cold controlling man and the object of his obsession, Deep Water is happy to string party scenes together that feature de Armas acting the coquette and Affleck shrugging his shoulders like a bro who lost the last round of beer pong. It’s hardly the basis for a quite look at suburban menace.

But this isn’t a film about tension. It’s barely a film with a plot. This is a movie that was about sex—namely the undeniable chemistry between Affleck and de Armas (who had a very public quarantine love affair during the making of this movie). While the chemistry may have been present off-screen, it fizzles like a baking soda volcano in the film.

Affleck seems more like an exasperated dad while de Armas pouts and leans forward so the camera can look down her dress for the 90th time. The film forgets about the police investigation about five minutes after introducing it, because plot and tension are for movies crafted with care.

Vic and Melinda sort of yell at each other, then go back to sulking/flirting, no matter what happens. Not in an interesting way, but in a way that makes you wonder if the whole movie wasn’t just some sort of improv exercise gone wrong.   

Still, not all is bad in the shallow rapids of Deep Water. Grace Jenkins makes the most of her feature debut, as Melinda and Vic’s precocious daughter. She’s got more maturity than both parents, and sadly, more screen presence. As far as adorable moppets go, she’s fantastic and I hope she gets to be the kid in a less horrible film someday. She’s also the star of a credits sequence that’s such an odd change in tone from the rest of the film, it almost seems like a joke.

If you’re in the mood for a lurid ’90s-style thriller, you may wish to wade into the shallows Deep Water, but ultimately this is a hollow exercise by a director and actors who are capable of so much more.

Deep Water is available on Hulu starting March 18.

Poor Thriller * R * 115 mins.