A wealthy married man becomes the chief suspect in the deaths of his wife’s lovers.
I had many questions after watching Deep Water (twice!), including why don’t these wealthy people have a dishwasher. In fact why don’t any rich Americans in movies have a dishwasher.
There are other, more important unanswered questions in this sometimes mystifying movie, leaving us flailing around in assumptions, searching for motives. Yet my mind kept coming back to the dishes, as sadly Deep Water is, for an erotic thriller, neither erotic enough nor thrilling enough. There are still some good touches, but it won’t have a cultural impact in the way that director Adrian Lyne’s ’80s blockbusters did: squelching snails do not equal a boiled bunny; Ana de Armas eating a cheese toastie doesn’t have the sexy power of Kim Basinger fed strawberries by Mickey Rourke.
Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas) live in New Orleans, cushioned by great wealth and a party-loving group of friends. They have a 6 year old daughter, Trixie (Grace Jenkins), and Melinda has many lovers, who she sees more than Trixie.
There’s barely any back story, and what they’ve agreed to in their marriage is never spelled out in the actual movie. Maybe it’s evolved, Vic’s red line crossed to no reaction except another moving of that red line. Maybe he’s scared, maybe he thinks he’s being modern and grown up about it. Certainly he often seems like Melinda’s dad. He looks older, with his man shed (filled with pet snails), berating her for staying out all night. Melinda’s boyfriends speak to him awkwardly, like high school boys wanting to take a middle aged man’s daughter to the prom. There are three’s-a-crowd dinners where Melinda and her latest squeeze giggle and Vic glowers. But Melinda’s lovers keep dying.
The town knows she’s sleeping with other men; their friends are starting to worry, though most of them look as if they’re only one suggestively finger-stirred bourbon away from partner-swapping themselves. Maybe they secretly see Vic’s cuckolding as karma for his fortune, earned by invented a chip for military drones. (Now he builds web apps, the 2020 rich man hobby-business equivalent of Noughties-era middle class British ladies and their overpriced cupcakes.)
Melinda is often drunk and properly messy, with little time for their daughter. She’s entirely unconstrained by expectation and watching her behaviours brings home how much most of us still are, in 2022: “she did that? In front of him? And straight after THAT?!” Diving into her affairs in full view of her husband and their friends, she kisses her lovers at parties, has sex with them while Vic is around, and leaves barely a gap between grieving one dead one and moving onto one who still has a pulse.
If Vic has agreed to it then why shouldn’t she? Though it looks an odd dynamic, in a house big enough for Vic not to witness it, in a society where divorce is commonplace, in a family that could easily afford two post-separation homes. They tell each other they love each other, usually after a fight or some in-car masturbation. Their friends (who make this movie) are opposing choruses, the husbands protecting Vic from embarrassment and accusation while the women laugh along at Vic’s dancing. It’s surely in all their interests for Melinda to stay, not least because she is the life and soul of every party.
New neighbour Don (Tracy Letts) is also older, and like a lesser version of Vic. Moderately unsuccessful, he’s sold one screenplay, based on himself. He also has a young wife, beautiful except when standing next to Melinda. Both Don and Vic are trying to be more interesting. Maybe that’s why both have cute daughters with dogs’ names: Trixie, Goldie. Though where Vic is suppressing everything Don is a disruptor, in a way not unlike Melinda. While the other husbands in their group have Vic’s back, taking Vic’s claim to have murdered Melinda’s missing lover Martin as a joke, Don is like a dog with a bone, however uncomfortable it makes everyone else. He sets himself up as an arbiter of morality but exudes an unpleasant panting glee at the writerly possibilities of Melinda and Vic’s situation.
As for the performances, de Armas is full-on, maximising her lightly sketched role. We know so little about Melinda and what makes her tick though, and with Affleck often just faintly glowering, their relationship, love and desire for each other never feels remotely plausible. The parties and interactions with friends and frenemies are the best bits: Lil Rel Howery and, Dash Mehok, who play his friends Grant and Jonas, and Melinda’s girl gang, some of whom are preparing to break ranks and pitch for Vic themselves. Jenkins is terrific, with Trixie briefly but cleverly characterised: watchful, convinced but unbothered that her dad is a killer. Letts is hugely watchable. As Don’s fake moral structure breaks down his real feelings and motives emerge, oozing out like gunk from a decomposing body.
There are some impressive jolting shots and scenes among the tedium. As one dead boyfriend hangs bent over in the water, from under the surface a multitude of legs appear, Vic’s army of friends jumping in to pull out his victim. Later, Vic’s desperation when he realises he’s been spotted with a body is bleakly funny and very well done, about the only time we see anything out of Affleck. As for the killings themselves, we see more as Vic’s emotions finally burst forth. First we only hear about a death. Then there’s a flashback. Then the thudding violence of the next victim.
The proportions of Vic and Melinda Van Allen’s depressingly decorated period house — hugely tall doors, small sofas — make them and their visitors look like Borrowers. Presumably it’s to show that even with his murderous hobby, her out-of-this-world gorgeousness and their vast wealth they are still small, small-town people, their story to be gossiped about within a couple of square miles for the next 100 years.
Despite Deep Water‘s many faults it does, finally, get under the skin, if you can make it through the tepid sex and stretches of tedium. Melinda and Vic’s transgressiveness may not be explained, or believable, but it eventually becomes oddly compelling.
The ending feels fitting; not just that Melinda might be excited by the knowledge that Vic is a killer, or that he’s doing it because he loves her, but that they finally have complementary hobbies.
Note: There is a mid-credits scene.
Deep Water is available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.Deep Water: Amazon UK
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