Deon Taylor’s remarkable journey as a self-made filmmaker rarely gets proper attention. After years of producing and directing a plethora of genre vehicles, Taylor recently broke it big with mainstream audiences. Last year’s The Intruder and Black and Blue reinvigorated their tried and true premises through lively social commentary, with Taylor blending the two sensibilities into a satisfying genre remix. His latest effort Fatale plays homage to the 80/90s erotic thrillers of yesteryear (Fatal Attraction). It also marks Taylor’s finest offering to date, as the craftsmen’s sleek presentation elevates this fiercely provocative thriller.
Fatale follows Derrick (Michael Ealy), a successful sports agent who finds himself stuck in a mid-life crisis. Trying to escape his loveless marriage, Derek has a getaway affair with Valerie (Hillary Swank). As Derrick tries to bring his life back to normalcy, a break-in brings Valerie back into his life as an eager detective. Soon, the sinister detective involves Derrick in a dangerous scheme that could alter his livelihood forever.
As a fan of Taylor’s earlier work, it’s a pleasure to see the director further refine his visceral presentation. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti crafts a fittingly lavish lens to indulge in the character’s high-steaks reality. Dressing frames with fast cars, opulent penthouses, and towering skyscrapers, Taylor wisely plays into the premise’s evocative allures. He also wears notable influences on his sleeve, affably building upon his contemporaries through his inclusive lens (similar to Intruder and Black and Blue, the narrative addresses societal dynamics through Derrick’s unjust racial witch hunt).
Once the drama begins to unfold, Spinotti’s previously steady hand pulsates towards an unhinged whirlwind of framing techniques (I love the various ideas, including a tense slasher beat pulled straight from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). Paired with Geoff Zanelli’s nerve-wracking score, Taylor evokes a palatable unease that permeates through every frame. I love the reckless glee Taylor and company operate with, lovingly upping the dramatic steaks to enthralling levels of crowd-pleasing melodrama. The self-aware execution enhances the familiar formula while never folding into inauthentic parody.
Fatale’s campy pleasures work due to the capable cast. It’s a joy to see Oscar-winner Hillary Swank sink her teeth into Valrie’s wicked persona. Like a sinister spider entrapping her prey, Swank’s balance between coy wordplay and explosive meltdowns creates a fittingly unhinged antagonist for audiences to fear. I also appreciate Swank and screenwriter David Loughery’s attempts to empathize with the character, allowing her to be more than a crazed lunatic. Michael Ealy aptly flexes his talents as a charismatic leading man. His delivery discovers vulnerability under his character’s cool facade, imbuing much-needed agency into Derrick’s rollercoaster journey.
Fatale rarely reaches a dull moment, but its genre delivery does come with some limitations. Loughery’s screenplay occasionally touches upon timely conceits, whether it be Derrick’s outside pressures as a successful black man or the casual cruelty morphing Valerie’s conditions. These ideals are never explored beyond a surface level, as Loughery’s on-the-nose dialogue spells out conceits with a lack of grace. I also felt the film took some time to find its comfort zone, slow-playing the opening frames with a plethora of familiar cliches.
Minor gripes aside, Fatale is perhaps the best crowd-pleasing thrill ride to hit theaters this year. I can’t wait to see what Taylor has in store next for audiences, as he continues to shine as one of Hollywood’s most entertaining craftsmen.
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