Deep Water is an erotic thriller that finally arrives on streaming via Prime in the UK (Hulu in the US) this Friday; there’s a number of reasons to anticipate this much delayed film, originally developed by Fox before they were taken over by Disney. The original novel Deep Water is one of the less heralded works by the great Patricia Highsmith, an undisputed champ of thriller writing through Strangers on a Train to The Talented Mr Ripley. And the director is Adrian Lyne, ideally suited to the author’s focus on sexual obsession and jealousy from his own considerable canon (Nine and a Half Weeks, Indecent Proposal, Lolita, Unfaithful), with a catnip-to-the-masses cast which matches Ben Affleck with Ana de Armas, the breakout star of the last Bond film.
A subtle flash-forward aside, we open on suburban couple Vic Van Allen (Affleck) and his wife Melinda (de Armas), who may have fallen out of love, but haven’t stopped playing games with each other. In a supposedly open relationship, Melinda takes lovers, who have an uncanny knack of vanishing; Vic likes to boast that he’s killed them, but bodies are not found. Vic’s thoughtless boast arouses some interest, notably from aspiring screenwriter Lionel Washington (Tracy Letts), but just who’s zoomin’ who? Does Vic’s professional work with drones suggest that’s he’s actually an immoral killer, or is the devious Melinda playing him? And what’s with Vic’s collection of snails?
Don’t look to the book for the ending, as Deep Water doesn’t quite adhere to Highsmith’s firmly downbeat punch-line, although it transfers most of the twists intact. A low-key Affleck enjoys playing up to a similar masculine ambiguity that worked so well in the first half of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and de Armas is persuasive as a genuine femme fatale who may or may not be aware of what potential danger she’s engendering; in this instance, it’s relevant that she’s old enough to be his daughter. They’re a good-looking couple, although if you scrape away the glamour, their souls are as dark and dank as the bottom of a snail’s terrarium.
The perennially under-rated Lyne has always been a great craftsman whose movies have an iconic power; Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Jacob’s Ladder were all ground-breaking films which defined their own genres, even if critics carped that his films offered style rather than substance. That’s never been true, Lyne has always brought considerable depth to his work, and although the old-school plotting and focus on infidelity might seem a little quaint by today’s standards, Deep Water is a tense and involving thriller that adapts Highsmith’s intense brand of storytelling to the modern world with some style.
IN THE UK, DEEP WATER PREMIERES ON PRIME VIDEO FROM FRIDAY 18TH MARCH