Film Review: “Deep Water” — In Way Over Its Head
By Peg Aloi
Sitting through Deep Water is like being trapped at an endless, sodden string of dinner parties that don’t go very well.
Deep Water, directed by Adrian Lyne. Streaming on Hulu.
It would make sense to expect a lot from Deep Water: it’s adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith, with a screenplay co-written by Zach Helm (Stranger than Fiction) and Sam Levinson (Assassination Nation and Euphoria), and directed by Adrian Lyne, who has helmed other domestic thrillers such as Fatal Attraction, Unfaithful, and Indecent Proposal. Infidelity is the common thread here and you’d think Lyne would have pretty well mastered marital duplicity and crimes of passion by now. But this film, while satisfyingly glossy and sexy, is nevertheless too implausible and contrived to really generate much suspense.
Ben Affleck plays Vic, a successful engineer/inventor who apparently worked on a successful drone used in military combat. A dubious achievement but it allowed him to retire quite young. He spends his days riding his mountain bike and caring for his menagerie of snails. Yes, snails: he keeps them in a moist shed full of glass terrariums (or whatever snail houses are called) and regularly spends time with them. I’m sure there’s a creepy metaphor here, but if there is it’s either very, very weak or I’m very, very stupid and it’s lost on me. Anyway, Vic is married to Melinda (Ana de Armas of Knives Out and No Time to Die) and they have a young daughter who is cute and precocious and who enjoys driving her mother crazy by asking Alexa to play “Old McDonald” ad nauseam so she can sing along at top volume. Despite finding her daughter irritating at times, Melinda is nothing if not a youthful foil to Vic, who mostly dotes on her and indulges her occasional tantrums (it’s a rather annoying stereotype in a film full of them). She likes to drink, she likes to wear alluring clothes and, a freewheeling artistic spirit, she seems ever so slightly stifled by domestic life.
Their age difference seems to be a common trope in their suburban enclave. Melinda is a fair bit younger than Vic and the two of them enjoy entertaining and attending parties thrown by their friends (also well-to-do suburban married couples). At one of these parties, we meet one of Melinda’s chums, a young man named Joel (Brendan Miller) who she’s also sleeping with. You see, Vic and Melinda have an arrangement. She gets to date cute younger men and Vic says nothing aside from acting jealous and moody about the trysts. Apparently this is common knowledge, as is the fact that one of Melinda’s former lovers has gone missing. When Vic casually remarks to Joel that he killed Melinda’s missing lover, Joel’s not sure if he’s joking and figures that he’d better make himself scarce. Word gets around that Vic is spreading this rumor: his friends are unsure whether to believe it or not. Like Vic, they’re all approaching middle age. They all have a deer-in-the headlights look about them that suggests they’re not really sure how to deal with creeping thoughts of mortality. Apparently they’re too distracted by their own suburban angst to worry all that much if their friend is a serial killer.
There are many missteps made by this film, but one of the more mystifying ones is the failure to let these friends have a bit more screen time. They are certainly more appealing and intriguing than the brooding, inscrutable Vic. Take Lionel (the always-fantastic Tracy Letts), who writes crime novels. He naturally takes an interest in Vic’s habit of confessing to unsolved murders of men his wife’s recently been sleeping with. What is Vic’s deal? It’s as if he’s playing some perverse game: he gives Melinda all the freedom she wants, but also feels the need to cruelly punish her for it by (allegedly) murdering her lovers one by one. When Melinda’s piano teacher Ricky (played by the wonderful and beautiful Jacob Elordi, an Australian actor who also stars in Euphoria) is seen around town with Melinda, Vic doesn’t confront him but instead skulks and follows him around. Melinda and Ricky actually make an extremely attractive couple; she’s a talented musician who seems to resent not being able to perform more often. And did I mention that I think Ane de Armas is perhaps one of the most beautiful and charismatic actresses to grace the big screen in quite some time? It would be criminal not to give this young woman more exciting roles than this pouty lipped femme fatale. Still, she makes the most of an underwritten character.
For his part, Affleck’s Vic feels similarly under-examined. He is perfectly charming when he needs to be, as when Vic flirts with Lionel’s wife Maggie (Rachel Blanchard). But, like his friends, who show nowhere near enough curiosity about Vic’s spooky behavior, the self-proclaimed murderer is too bland to inspire terror. As his behavior is revealed to be increasingly brutal, I found myself wondering who this man was and why he acted the way he did. More important, why should I care? Deep Water had the potential to be an intensely provocative thriller cloaked as a black comedy of manners. Instead, sitting through the film is like being trapped at an endless, sodden string of dinner parties that don’t go very well.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, Crooked Marquee, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at themediawitch.com.
I have to say this is the worst film I have ever watched. I want an hour and a half of my life back. My friend when home 10 mins before it ended as she could be bothered to watch the last bit.
The best character in it was Trixie and the snails were more mentally stimulating that anything else in the film.
The people who write arty farty reviews saying how wonderful it is, are the same people who go into the Tate modern and spend ages gazing at the fire alarm assuming it’s one of the exhibits.
In the book, Vic names 2 of his snails and describes them as “husband and wife” because they’re faithful to each other. It sounds like that metaphor was lost in the adaptation