Deep Water is the sort of sexy thriller that has all but disappeared from cinema screens in recent years, unabashedly flaunting its sexiness in much the same way that Melinda (Ana de Armas) flaunts her latest fling in front of husband Vic (Ben Affleck) and their upper class friends in the film’s opening moments. When Vic peers out an upstairs window and sees his wife on the patio smooching dim-witted Joel (Brendan C. Miller), we expect some kind of reaction, but Vic merely watches for a moment, catches Melinda’s eye, and returns to the party.
If your reaction to this sequence of events is “what the hell is going on?” you’re not alone; a fellow partygoer tries to broach the subject with Vic. “Are they fucking?” she asks in a scandalous whisper. “Should we ask them?” Vic deadpans. It’s clear he and Melinda have some sort of arrangement — the rules of which the film frustratingly refuses to divulge — but that doesn’t stop him from putting a little fear in his wife’s newest “friend” by intimating that her last lover wound up dead, by Vic’s own hand. He later insists this was merely a joke made in poor taste, but it’s believable enough to send the local rumor mill spinning, prompt Joel to run for the hills, and cause recently arrived screenwriter and novelist Don (Tracy Letts) to begin snooping around.
Adrian Lyne, purveyor of exceptional erotic thrillers Fatal Attraction, 9 1/2 Weeks and Indecent Proposal, returns to filmmaking after a 20-year absence, and this should have been a match made in heaven. But while Lyne remains adept at communicating the psychology of sexuality and navigating the complex waters of toxic relationships, the screenplay for Deep Water frequently undercuts his talents with its preposterousness. As more and more of Melinda’s “friends” turn up missing — or worse — why does no one else in their peer group suspect that her steely-eyed husband might be involved? Outwardly charming though he may be, there’s clearly something amiss with Vic, but no one aside from Don seems to pick up on this. And what’s with the snails Vic breeds in his basement? Despite the numerous scenes that take place with these gastropods, don’t expect there to be any sort of payoff involving Vic’s pets.
Confounding script notwithstanding, the principal cast is great here. Affleck exudes rage while simultaneously seeming like the nicest guy in town almost effortlessly, and there’s no denying the appeal of de Armas as a haughty, manipulative sexpot, although telling the story almost entirely from Vic’s perspective does leave the character of Melinda feeling underdeveloped; some insight into her endgame, or her motivations, would have helped tremendously. Supporting players like Dash Mihok and Lil Rel Howery are solid, and the ever-dependable Letts is perfectly cast in a small but pivotal role that finds him delivering a line so utterly absurd that it elicits the biggest laugh of the year outside of Jackass Forever.
Despite Deep Water being sexier than the vast majority of Hollywood’s oddly sanitized output, it never quite feels sexy enough for its lurid subject matter. Lyne may have been able to spin trash into art with his earlier efforts, but this film is a disappointingly shallow attempt at hearkening back to the glory days.