If you have any inclination to check out the new direct-to-Hulu erotic thriller Deep Water, it’s because you’re a fan of at least one of its main three collaborators: Adrian Lyne, Ben Affleck, or Ana de Armas. No offense meant to down-the-call-sheet performers like Tracy Letts & Lil Rel Howery—nor to Euphoria-famous screenwriter Sam Levinson—but Lyne, Affleck, and de Armas are the film’s only legitimate draws. Deep Water‘s allure is entirely dependent on extratextual details from those three Hollywood celebs’ careers and tabloid notoriety. Not only is it the first Adrian Lyne film in 20 years, it’s also a return to the genre that made him infamous in the first place: erotic thrillers like 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and Indecent Proposal. It’s also a film that’s only hype-building press coverage was of Ben Affleck & Ana de Armas’s post-production love affair, as detailed in months-long paparazzi photo shoots. Otherwise, Deep Water does not truly exist in any practical or meaningful way, having been unceremoniously dumped into a Disney streaming platform sub-dungeon after a couple years of COVID-related distribution delays. You need to care about at least one of its three central collaborators to know or care about Deep Water to begin with, and you need all three of them to be in top form for the movie to fully satisfy. Unfortunately, it only edges you 2/3rds of the way there.
Ben Affleck & Ana de Armas are blameless in the movie’s failure to perform. De Armas is electric as a frustrating housewife-gone-wild, whose extramarital affairs appear to be equally for their own drunken-hedonist sake and a kinky role-play game she shares with her cuckolded husband, Affleck. As amusingly erratic & irritating as her performance can be, Deep Water is Ben Affleck’s movie through & through. He’s in his Gone Girl mode here, scruffy & gloomy to the point of self-parody. He pretends to be troubled by his wife’s sexual flings with younger men, only putting up with it to avoid divorce while they’re raising a young daughter. De Armas knows exactly how much fun he’s having as the silently “suffering” husband at home, though, quipping “If you were married to anyone else, you’d be so fucking bored you’d kill yourself.” What’s unclear is whether he’s staving off boredom by killing her lovers, and whether his wife is aware that murder is part of their kink. Like clockwork, each of her boytoys either go missing or are found dead as a new affair heats up, then she immediately replaces them with the next victim-du-jour. In the meantime, Affleck dutifully attends to their daughter and to his own coterie of pet snails, occasionally bragging about murdering his wife’s lovers with a self-amused smirk, daring the audience to believe him. It’s a deeply strange performance, an even more convincing supervillain origin story than Joker. All it’s missing is a scene where Affleck gets dragged away to Arkham Asylum, exclaiming “I was poly under duress until I became The Snail, avenger of cuckolds, the Willard of adultery!”
It’s a shame, then, that the director fails to reciprocate his actors’ efforts. Adrian Lyne is limp & passionless in his framing, as if he knew from the beginning this was a straight-to-streaming affair. The novelty of the uptown New Orleans setting offers little in the way of personality, unless you were somehow unaware until now that the wealthy are depraved perverts with no sense of taste. There are some nods to tropes of the erotic thriller’s heyday, mostly in de Armas’s unhinged villainy as an over-sexed woman and in Affleck’s more covert villainy as a ruthless businessman (this time as a tech-bro contributor to drone warfare, an update to Michael Douglas’s finance-bro jobs in decades past). The sex scenes are brief and missing the gender-warfare combativeness that made the genre’s original run so thrilling to begin with. The most antagonistic the sex gets is when de Armas demands that Affleck kiss her ass, and Lyne follows his immediately buried face in uncomfortable close-up. You can feel the movie come alive in moments like that, like when she spitefully removes a single pube from her tongue after initiating a blowjob she had no intent to finish. The problem is those moments feel like foreplay for a literal war-of-the-sexes that never fully heats up. And then, cruelly, the movie abruptly ends without a proper payoff – again, no intent to finish. It feels as if Lyne wasn’t sure what he was making or why, leaving it to the editors to figure it out in post. Too bad Paul Verhoeven didn’t get the job instead, since he already improved Lyne’s Fatal Attraction through revision & parody in Basic Instinct: the very best specimen of the genre, and proof in itself that Lyne is kind of a hack.
Deep Water is fun in spurts, but it’s missing a few escalated sex scenes and a proper climax. There’s only one dead-weight participant in its central threesome, but it’s enough to spoil everyone else’s good time. Affleck at least seemed like he had fun playing with those snails, but the whole movie needed to be as off-putting & slimy as his hobby.