Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel of the same name, ‘Deep Water’ is Prime Video’s latest release starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, directed by Adrian Lyne. Focusing on the ebbs and flows of a crumbling marriage, Deep Water (2022) conjures an interesting preface that immediately gives way to a plummeting plot that eventually washes the film out to the sea. The film seems to be following the titillating lineage of works like ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ or ‘By the Sea’ but without the reflective content that makes up for their success. The bazillion plot holes throughout and the dead narrative become a reason for the sinking of the film, despite the hot-and-sexy medley of star cast.
The so-called psychological thriller unfolds in suburban New Orleans and features Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas) who are visibly having problems in their marriage. Vic is a drone chip maker who has retired after making a lot of money and mostly juggles his time between snail petting, parenting their 6-year old daughter, speeding mountain bikes across the city’s old warehouses, and witnessing his wife’s sexcapades as she takes one lover after the other. His wife, Melinda, has even fewer tasks at hand- she gets drunks, she has sex with either her lovers or her husband, and she gets drunk.
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The couple seems to be miffed with one another for reasons unbeknownst. While the novel was written at a time when it was easier to soak in alcohol than acknowledge the infidelity of the partners and get divorced, this film is made in 2022 and there is no apparent reason why this clearly mismatched couple cannot get a divorce and move on. The occasional outbursts of passion and love between the couple may be a factor, but not reason enough to live through the anguish.
With a background of a fast-failing marriage, the story of the film starts with the mention of Martin’s (One of Melinda’s lovers) ‘disappearance’. Following a linear narrative, Melinda moves from one man to another singularly, which is simultaneously followed by her lovers’ serial absences or re-locations. The fact that Melinda was taking just a single lover at a time confirms her monogamous trait, but then, the question is, was she only looking to spice up her sex life with Vic which was arguably dull? We could never know since the erotic scenes between the duo suggest otherwise. And yet, every direct dialogue between them is suggestive of a vendetta that she holds against Vic. It is almost like Lyne got so lost in the thrill and sexual energy of the plot, that she forgot to give defining arcs to her characters.
Largely, the film focuses on failed marriages, hypocrisy, and the role of gossip in elite society. It is all tied together with a facade of a psychological thriller. As a person who is a psycho-thriller connoisseur, I was definitely not convinced with the ‘rumor’ that comes at just 7 minutes into the film. You might also not be up to believing it if you have watched enough cinema. Vic’s stoicism, brooding mood, and perpetually glum personality are too much to not read into. From the beginning, it is fairly evident that there is more to the rumor, that the rich and affluent of high society are trying to shrug under the rug in the pretext of a joke.
At almost half the film, following the sequential disappearances of Melinda’s lovers, you will be impatient to reach the climax and hope that it redeems the build-up. ‘Deep Water’ gives away too much too soon, without making an effort to delve into details or nuances of the actions. The title uses the idiom ‘in deep water’ to reflect on the satire in multiple ways. It is suggestive of the deep waters of the gorge, or the trouble of marriage, or simply that there is a deeper meaning to the narrative that is being fed to us. But not once does it come remotely close to abject its full potential.
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If we keep aside the flagrant infidelity, there is not a lot in the film that you can hold on to. A failed attempt to make a psychological thriller, ‘Deep Water’ just ends up being a shallow erotic drama that has a disappointing climax. Had this film just been treated as a cluster analysis of psychopathic mechanisms, it would have had a better chance of not tanking terribly. Devoid of any elements of suspense, mystery, or thrill, the perpetually hovering ominous signs- like Vic’s stoic gaze, his overbearing calmness, and his cuckolded persona aid in revealing the plot too soon.
Having said that, what is worth noting is the choice of the clothes that Melinda and Vic dress in, which is worth a mention and a hoot to the costume designer. Till about half the duration of the film when Melinda was linearly engaging in adultery, she was only shown to be wearing black dresses which could be a reference to her tenebrous, ignorant mind. Later, when she is thinking more accurately (although accidentally) and calling out a crime, she is in a white bathing gown. And eventually, when she disintegrates and gives in to the circumstance, her clothes are shades of browns and beiges which are reflective of a more ‘gray’ personality. Vic, on the other hand, is almost always in shades of blue; obviously relating to the calmness, depth, and fearful might of the ocean’s water.
All in all, Deep Water (2022) is a disappointing watch where you are always questioning yourself, not in an ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen next’ way but more like, ‘why is it happening, whatever is happening, and why am I wasting my time on this’ way. At some point, your only hope will be from the climax and you will find yourself wishing profusely that the climax redeems the plot. But I am sorry to say, it won’t. However, you can still watch it once just so you can appreciate actual psychological thrillers better, the next time you watch them.