There was quite some excitement to see the return of director Adrian Lyne, who hasn’t made a film since 2002’s Unfaithful. His psychological thriller Deep Water explores the story of a married couple that has fallen out of love, but their mind games might have deadly consequences. With a star-studded cast including Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, and more, it seemed like the perfect blend with the promise of a suspenseful erotic thriller. Yet, the film underdelivers on both sides by showing his hand too early and taking away any suspense that could’ve been built throughout the film’s nearly two-hour runtime.
The premise promises that this Hulu original film would explore a tug-of-war between a couple that is pushing each other to extremes. Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas do play their parts well when it comes to this romance that has lost its spark–ironic given they were dating for some time. Most of the movie’s conflict is carried by Armas‘ Melinda Van Allen, who pretty openly cheats on him; something that is put into the spotlight very early on in the film and was highlighted in the trailers. She consistently pushes him to the edge throughout that leads to some dangerous consequences. Sadly, her character feels maliciously one-note, even if there are shining moments where you get a better grasp of why their relationship is the way it is.
The only issue is that it’s not as interesting as the film tries to play it. We don’t really get a moment with Affleck‘s Vic to really understand what he sees in his wife. He’s a typical “I love her no matter what” type of guy, but there’s never really a moment that sells you on it. Plus, it drags Armas‘ character down an extra notch because she’s always portrayed as the bad one just pushing him. It’s there to make his character look good, but the film reveals way too much that it doesn’t really convince you that he’s a good guy. They want you to sympathize with him, but then they kind of just have him stare a lot and not even hide aspects of his character that should’ve been built up and kept a secret until much later in the film.
What adds to that issue is that there’s no redeeming factor or even a playful evil to balance it out. Armas‘ character is built up without a goal in mind. All she does is provoke him but you’re never sure what she’s getting out of it, especially given the film’s overall direction. It creates a disconnect between the story and the character’s development. Actually, it’s better described as character whiplash, because some scenes don’t flow as well as they should. Melinda suffers the most because she never is consistent with her actions. After an emotional moment, she just boomerangs back to default and there’s nothing later on to add any real tension.
As I am writing this I realize that the only character with an arc is Tracy Letts‘ Lionel Washington, who barely has a role in the story. Even the rest of the cast is just there to spout exposition or react to whatever is happening. Lil Rel Howery gets one or two funny scenes, but the rest of the cast or mostly forgettable. In a way, it makes you wonder why they had such an extensive cast of characters to begin it if none of them factor into the story in any way. It’s a shame to just use them as window dressing, especially because the film undermines their mission to make characters look better than they are if only the film didn’t flat out tell you. They don’t factor into the story, they’re distractions at best.
That’s kind of the core issue though, there’s no real suspense because everything is pretty obviously laid out. When a major turning point in the story happens, it’s not shocking nor is it leaving a lasting impression because the film doesn’t let it stick with you long enough to make it suspenseful A lot of this film was eerily similar to Gone Girl for me. The only thing that was missing would be the media subplot and it’s a more one-sided take on the story. Yet, unlike that film, it doesn’t feel as tightly knit to make it feel more like vignettes than a full-encompassing arc.
It just can’t build suspense because it shows its hand too early and it’s trying to be clever about it. Worse, it doesn’t even add anything besides what you would expect. Even the “erotic” aspect is half-baked. It would’ve worked exactly the same without its inclusion. It’s sad to say it because the conflict of love and passion is the most interesting aspect of the film. In a way, if Deep Water was purely about exploring Vic’s obsession with his wife and never knowing if she really was cheating on him, it could’ve worked better as a psychological game. If it focused more on the erotic thriller aspect, the film could’ve benefitted and focused more on its characters.
As it stands, the film simply lacks the punch to really nail its concept. If you’re looking for a decent distraction and something to fill that Gone Girl vibe, the film might be for you. Personally, if it kept more elements vague, the film would’ve benefited greatly from it. There is some nice cinematography here, and the music does add a little flair but the lack of suspense kills any mood it’s trying to create. It’s a shame that Lyne‘s return to directing isn’t as memorable as one would expect from the former Jacob’s Ladder director, but perhaps dipping his toes with this project could lead to him pursuing more in the future.