Of all the films whose releases were affected by the pandemic, Deep Water has had one of the most arduous paths to finally being seen by the general public. Filmed in late 2019 with the aim of a November 2020 release, it has been pushed back several times before finally landing on Hulu, an unusual choice for a film starring Ben Affleck.
The other complicating factor was the fact that Affleck and co-star Ana de Armas started dating after filming the movie, and the delay in release saw their relationship come and go. That made it an awkward proposition for the former couple to promote a film in which they play a husband and wife with, shall we say, an unusual marital agreement.
The first film for director Adrian Lyne since 2002’s Unfaithful, it centers on Vic (Affleck), a nouveau riche man who has a life of luxury after selling drone technology to the military, and Melinda (de Armas), who seems to have no desire to be either a wife or a mother. Instead, she gloms on to a series of other men, seemingly with the tacit permission of Vic, who’d rather she mess around within the confines of marriage than get a divorce.
But from the beginning, it’s clear that Vic is far from thrilled about being in an open marriage, making both veiled and overt threats to the men Melinda is seeing. He even openly jokes about having killed one of the men she used to see, an “admission” greeted with nervous laughter from their friends. But soon another one of her male companions turns up dead and it’s clear that Vic might not be joking after all.
Adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, the film is a hot mess almost from minute one. Lyne, who’s also directed films like 9 ½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and Indecent Proposal, is known for his sexy stories, and there was an expectation that this film would be in the same vein. And while there are hints of steaminess throughout, a number of factors keep the eroticism of the story at bay.
First is the central relationship, which starts off bad and only gets worse as the film goes along. There isn’t an inkling of love between them, and without even a glimpse of what drew the couple together in the first place, it’s near impossible to care about their arguments or anything else in their lives.
It seems the editors of the film understood what a dog of a story they had on their hands, as the film is cut to within an inch of its life. Rare is the shot that lasts more than a few seconds, as they seemingly think they can fool viewers with constant changes instead of putting together a coherent story.
Consequently, the film never settles on a tone of any kind. The filmmakers offer up drama, mystery, comedy, and more, hoping against hope that one will stick, to no avail. This is probably the only movie where you will find comedian Lil Rel Howery and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts sharing the same scene, with both of them seeming completely out of place.
Whatever drew Affleck and de Armas together off screen is not evident on screen. Both actors have been compelling in other recent roles — Affleck in The Tender Bar, de Armas in Knives Out — but their pairing never works. Affleck’s character is dour and morose for most of the film, and he never makes the part remotely compelling. De Armas is undone by a mostly one-note role that calls on her to range from clueless to shrieky.
The weirdness of the film goes right to the end credits, where — after an ending that is supposed be intense — they reprise a scene of Vic and Melinda’s daughter singing in the car, a WTF change in tone that makes no sense whatsoever. But since little else is comprehensible in a movie that should never have seen the light of day, it fits right in.
Deep Water debuts on Hulu on March 18.