Deep Water is available exclusively March 18 on Hulu.
As advertised, Deep Water is supposed to be a super-sexy adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, featuring the real-world couple of Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, directed by a former master of the genre, Adrian. Lyne (Fatal Attraction). What that mix of talent manages to evoke is a baffling tale of marital torture between two people who hate each other for largely mysterious reasons. And not mysterious in the exciting, moody thriller way, but more like the inscrutable “what exactly is his problem and why should we care?” way.
Melinda (de Armas) and Vic (Affleck) are the married couple in question and it’s clear from the start that they have some all-too-frequent issues. On the surface, they are living an opulent life in an architecturally puzzling house in New Orleans with their lovely, precocious kindergarten girl, Trixie (Grace Jenkins). She is an attentive father, but a charmless idiot. And Melinda is her Myers/Briggs opposite, fluttering around her house barefoot, wearing an endless array of skintight black dresses clearly meant to bury the fact that she once had a child. Outside of his idle nature, Vic also tends to a basement full of snails, no kidding, who he smiles wistfully at as if they were his true partner in life.
The pair have a circle of neighboring friends, who also seem to be equally work-averse considering the insane number of parties they throw, which always seem to feature Vic glaring sullenly at Melinda flagrantly flirting and/or making out with other men. With a venomous smile, she goads Vic by calling him “Mr. Boring” and then plays the life of the party for himbo fans who look like dim versions of Brad Pitt. One might assume that this twisted, recurring game between the two must be a means of igniting their libidos to a simmer, or perking up their serious parental existences, but no. When they return home and she’s drunk and naked, that earns her a perfunctory application of Vic’s moisturizer and that’s the end of it. Yes it’s weird.
Rightly so, Vic’s friends are horrified by his public behavior. But he just shrugs apathetically at Melinda’s toy of the week as she swaps lovers like they’re in a formal batting rotation. But every once in a while, Vic gets pushed too far and then threatens one of those guys with such intensity that he suddenly thinks he might be capable of murder. Perhaps those snails are, I gasp, actually nefarious.
Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (Euphoria) are to blame for the screenplay, which retains the basic premise and narrative backbone of Highsmith’s novel. But strangely, they pull key contextual necessities from the book, as well as random pieces of Jenga, making Melinda and Vic’s behavior completely confusing. Unlike the novel, the film has no context as to why these two got married, if there ever was any passion, and why they didn’t bother getting a divorce. What is clear is that neither of them blackmails or feels trapped in the relationship, emotionally or financially. She just throws herself at other men, he’s fine with that; rinse/repeat.
Maybe all of this would be worth it if the chemistry was sizzling, but there is no set of men for de Armas that is appealing in this film. And that’s not to say she’s not trying, as the actress works overtime gliding through each frame with plenty of charm. Unfortunately, she has the best chemistry standing naked next to a coffee machine, so that’s problematic. Plus, Affleck is giving off best-effort vibes, sporting that sheepish look that’s been forever immortalized in memes. And when the pair finally do, it’s so awkwardly edited and awkwardly framed that “sexy” isn’t even the seventh word you’d use to describe it.
Lyne doesn’t even use the New Orleans setting to her advantage. Everything is shot so precisely, even the exterior locations, that there is no sense of atmosphere or production value. How is it possible to make the Big Easy not sexy? In fact, no part of this film ever seems to find its reward. The intense emotional reactions of the characters have no repercussions, the missing people just keep missing, even the damned snails don’t have their time to drool!
In truth, the only actor to come out of Deep Water with their heads held high is little Grace Jenkins. Her Trixie is insightful, complicated, and completely charming. Every scene that features it has nuances and a small taste of something sinister, which sadly also remains unresolved. She comes across as the one thing Lyne loves about this movie, because her final and puzzling decision here is to feature her in an outtake singing Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” during the credits. Yes, the psycho-sexual thriller about a deeply troubled couple pushing the boundaries of love and hate ends with a moppet doing Carpool Karaoke. Truly the only surprise in the movie.