Deep Water Synopsis: Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas) Van Allen are a couple in the small town of Little Wesley. Their loveless marriage is held together only by a precarious arrangement whereby, in order to avoid the messiness of divorce, Melinda is allowed to take any number of lovers as long as she does not desert her family.
At first glance, Vic and Melinda appear as your typical socialite couple. They spend most days passively tending to their daughter and mucking it up at festive gatherings, with their glamorous beauty conjuring the image of a pitch-perfect couple. Everything is not what it seems in Adrian Lyne’s latest domestic thriller, Deep Water.
Lyne, who remained elusive to the industry after directing 2002’s Unfaithful, became synonymous with the sumptuously trashy thrills of erotic thrillers during the genre’s heyday (Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal). I’ve always been a sucker for these films, as they often push their stylistic and emotional subject matter to the pinnacle of sleazy entertainment value.
With his long-awaited return, Lyne doesn’t miss a beat. Deep Water radiates gleefully pulpy energy under its self-serious image. I can see some viewers checking out as the narrative twists down a road of preposterous paths, but fans of the genre should buckle up for one of the early year’s best crowdpleasers.
There’s a reason the subgenre disappeared from the zeitgeist, with few filmmakers capturing the tricky tonal balance Lyne consistently executes. I applaud the director for never leaning into the building ridiculousness of his dopey narrative. While playing into the melodrama, Lyne skillfully showcases his array of auteur touchstones. A blend of foggy visuals and haunting edits creates a sense of palpable unease through each shocking twist. Cinematographer Eigil Bryld’s favoring of intimate framing choices also works wonders in conveying emotions simmering under the surface.
Deep Water spins a fairly goofy yarn for viewers to unwind. The narrative, crafted by Zach Helm and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, descends into a relationship defined by some more than glaring red flags. Once the film lures viewers into its spider web of complications, tensions ratchet up to a full boil as the story indulges in its inherent ridiculous steaks. I also love the ways Helm and Levinson craft intriguing characters.
Vic, a retired middle-ager who invented the software behind military drones, fittingly exists as a haunting shadow gazing upon Melinda’s every move. As he puts on a content face, Melinda acts out through a string of affairs that play more as a challenge to Vic’s cold-hearted sensibilities. Both characters ultimately undertake their own twisted streaks of passion. The conflicting relationship creates a see-saw of intimacy and disdain towards one another, existing as an oftentimes wordless battle between a couple stuck in a problematic cycle.
Deep Water also brings the kind of star power that defined the genre’s heyday. Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who began dating during filming, share a compelling rapport as lovers who know the other’s sins far too well.
It’s incredible how seamless both actors mesh with their roles. Similar to Gone Girl and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Affleck wears self-loathing and unhinged rage in every frame. His calculated performance plays perfectly into the smoldering presence and everyman persona that made Affleck a movie star. Ana de Armas also makes for a great sparring partner as Melinda. Her cunning wit and emotional outbursts create a character lashing out with every action. I can’t forget to mention the standout supporting cast, with Lil Rey Howery and Tracye Letts shinning as ciphers to the viewer’s bewilderment.
Deep Water isn’t flawless. The third act loses steam as the plot stagnates before the climax, which isn’t helped by the film’s unpretentious following of thriller contrivances. A brilliant conclusion saves face for the missteps, but I wish the film could have continued the taunt energy of its initial hour.
Deep Water doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t really have to. Lyne’s return to the silver screen radiates personality and refreshing throwback energy in full force. I hope this is just the start of a new chapter for the talented auteur.
DEEP WATER hits Hulu on March 18.
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