Ever since Fatal Attraction became a critical and financial darling in the 1980s, the domestic thriller subgenera has produced its fair share of wildly engaging entries. Some have thrived as so-bad-its-good train wrecks (2017’s Unforgettable), while others have successfully reinvented the framework with a distinctly modern lens (2019’s The Intruder). Netflix’s latest iteration of the genre Fatal Affair isn’t without its shameless appeals, but it begrudgingly settles for a mediocre middle ground.
Fatal Affair follows Ellie (Nia Long), a successful lawyer who lives a picturesque life with her husband Marcus (Stephon Bishop). Under the surface though, Nia begins to feel unsatisfied with the stale normality of everyday habits, leading to her having a romantic encounter with a former college friend David (Omar Epps). After Ellie writes off the incident, David begins to have a dangerous obsession that puts her family at risk.
Fatal Affair makes no secret in what it’s trying to achieve, with writer/director Peter Sullivan embracing the genre’s trashy tendencies by playing to its greatest strengths. For fans of the genre like myself, there are several plot beats that will have audiences howling with glee in their over-the-top nature, marrying its soap-opera tone with an irresistible blend of far-fetched twist and turns. The capable leads enhance the material substantially, with Nia Long injecting a natural warmth and vulnerability that highlights Ellie’s confliction in an empathetic light. Omar Epps has a blast portraying David’s unhinged persona, menacingly masking his uncontrollable rage with smooth confidence.
While self-aware in its approach, Fatal Affair does little to infuse its material with much-needed personality. Similar to his previous project (Secret Obsession, another Netflix release), Sullivan’s direction lacks stylistic grace, dispassionately framing each shot like a stale TV episode. The rigid visuals detract most from its horror-centric thrills, with a timid PG-13 approach and bizarre filmmaking choices (one of the major deaths happens inexplicably offscreen) not deriving much danger from these major plot beats.
Fatal Affair doesn’t lose points for playing to its strengths, yet the film limits itself with how little it reinvents its conventional formula. Sullivan’s screenplay lacks dimension, repurposing familiar character dynamics without having any unique qualities to imbue them with (Ellie’s husband is a bland, subservient character who rarely feels alive on-screen). The narrative shows you nothing that hasn’t already been crafted with more passion or innovation, playing it safe in a genre that is beloved for its unkempt charms.
Neither being remarkable or lousy enough to register an impression, Fatal Affair plays it by-the-numbers in a bland revival of the domestic thriller genre.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.