Hulu Revives the Erotic Thriller with “Deep Water”
The streaming revolution continues to usurp the established Hollywood order. While cable, satellite, and movie theaters navigate their uncertain future, the byproduct of this creative destruction has been an enormous and instantaneous supply of movies for consumption on our TVs and mobile devices. In addition, streaming platforms have given some of the industry’s top talent new outlets to showcase provocative work. This is a win for consumers.
On Hulu, their latest original film Deep Water sees the return of Adrian Lyne, the Oscar-nominated director of Fatal Attraction, after a twenty-year sabbatical. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, the film explores themes familiar to some of Lyne’s other work, chiefly adultery and its consequences on the family. With solid lead performances by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, Lyne gives us yet another steamy and suspenseful erotic thriller.
The story is about the peculiar family life of Vic (Affleck) and Melinda Van Allen (De Armas), who live with their daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins) in a nice house surrounded by a large circle of friends. Having helped develop a computer chip that is used in weapons of war, Vic lives a comfortable lifestyle, with his daughter and his magazine now the main drivers in his life. While they may appear to be your typical family, Vic allows Melinda to see other men to avoid a divorce. She flaunts her paramours in front of their friends, whose concern for their marriage is shrugged off as nothing by the emasculated Vic. However, behind his smile, he is consumed by envy.
Vic scares away one of Melinda’s lovers by claiming he killed a missing man because he was too friendly with his wife. While most of Vic’s friends dismiss the claim as a sick joke, writer Don Wilson (the criminally underrated Tracy Letts), begins to suspect that the jealous Vic may be a murderer. Hoping to find inspiration for his latest work, he sets out to solve the mystery himself.
Deep Water is an entertaining yarn, despite its campy flair and its moments of sheer ridiculousness that can only happen in the movies. The relationship between Vic and Melinda could have been ham-fisted melodrama in the hands of lesser talent, but Lyne lifts the material with a cold, bright style and a self-aware smirk. The motivations behind the characters are also dubious at times. How can a husband tolerate so many flagrant displays of infidelity by his wife in front of his friends? How can a mother be so cruel and disrespectful to the father of her child? While this drives much of the anticipation as the story unfolds, the bits of incoherence are ultimately redeemed because the sexy Deep Water knows what kind of movie it is. The script by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) and Sam Levinson (creator of TV’s “Euphoria”) doesn’t break any new ground, but checks off all the necessary boxes.
While audiences seem to be cutting cords and embracing all the choices that streaming has to offer, Deep Water reminds me of a simpler time in Hollywood. In 1987, Fatal Attraction was a top box office hit, only outperformed by Three Men and a Baby. Its success paved the way for other sexy, psychological thrillers, from 1992’s Basic Instinct to the late-night offerings seen on Cinemax. While there was an appetite for these films at one point in time, I can’t help but wonder if Deep Water or Fatal Attraction would be theatrically released today in the current Hollywood landscape. Will there ever be another opportunity for audiences to shriek in unison at the sight of a dead, boiling bunny as it is being projected onto a large screen at a packed movie theater? While I do not have an answer, I am least thankful that audiences seeking out mature films can turn to streaming platforms for their fix, even if we mourn the changes streaming has brought to the movie industry.