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Deep Water is a movie for the mean and horny

Deep Water asks the deep moral question: Can a drone engineer be sexy?

Ana de Armas in Deep Water. The titular role of deep water is not pictured here.
Claire Folger. © 2022 20th Century Studios
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Passed down from generation to generation is a piece of wisdom that functions both as advice and warning: Do not stick your dick in crazy. Though this saying is firmly entrenched among bro culture, it applies to receptive partners, too. Complications of ableist language aside, not engaging in sexual relations with people whose worldview you find to be incompatible with your own has likely averted innumerable personal disasters.

But if no one is having sex with “crazy,” it creates a forbidden unknown, an unanswerable question of what lies beyond the horizon of sanity. What happens on the off-chance you do it anyway? Further, what if you actually enjoy it? Or what if you’re the “crazy” in question?

Enter: Deep Water.

Ben Affleck in Deep Water. If you notice, there’s a startling lack of water in a movie called Deep Water.
20th Century Studios

Directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck, Deep Water is an erotic thriller whose sole existence is to seemingly answer all these questions through the power of a saucy, melodramatic cinematic adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel. The two real-life exes play a married couple who are equally hot and hateful, and spend a lot of time torturing each other and their New Orleans neighbors. Sparring around their precocious child, they insult each other with lascivious sighs and purrs that sound like threats.

Also there’s some light murder. I guess there’s water involved, too, though it is mostly in the form of drinking and is only occasionally deep.

For the most part, though, Deep Water has abandoned thought and logic for horny, unhinged vibes. It’s so much beautiful fun.

Deep Water will make you believe there’s someone out there for everyone. Hopefully your soul mate enjoys Deep Water.

The film drops its audience right in the middle of an odd domestic arrangement. Vic (Affleck) is a man who invented a microchip that’s integral to drone warfare; he’s become rich off of drone murders. He’s married to Melinda (de Armas), a terminally amorous woman who seemingly hates Vic. That’s not because she’s an ethical pacifist or concerned about the American government’s history of “accidental” civilian casualties, but because Vic is nice and boring.

How could a man who taught sky robots to murder better be boring, Melinda wonders constantly. How could a woman so randy be so mean, Vic wonders back. Divorce is an option neither one gives much mind to.

There’s no explanation of how these two found each other (College? A hotel bar? Hinge?) though the relationship is clearly off, thus creating a movie experience uncannily similar to sitting at a table next to a date that’s gone sideways. You pretend not to notice. You make eye contact with your own date. You both eavesdrop, but all you get are answers to questions that you still have to figure out yourself.

Vic and Mel have worked out a shaky arrangement in which Melinda is allowed to have side affairs with younger, ostensibly more exciting young men. (Melinda has forged a side deal with a faceless god who allows a steady trickle of very good-looking twunks into her life.) I’m not really sure what is in it for Vic, but the aerial death merchant seems to enjoy Melinda’s existence in his house. This setup eventually goes sour as Melinda escalates her affairs, hoping to get reactions out of Vic, and Vic gets angrier about how embarrassing those affairs are.

De Armas’s performance is dripping in hiss and slink. She breaks every word down to the syllable, then twists them in a way that seems both incredibly arousing and forbidding. She whispers alarm into phrases like “lobster bisque” and “mac and cheese” in a way that will now haunt me anytime I look at a New American menu.

Ana de Armas and Jacob Elordi in Deep Water. Elordi is 6-foot-5. Finally, the titular role is present. The water is arguably deep here, but it could be deeper.
20th Century Studios

Opposite de Armas, Affleck reprises Nick Dunne, the dense, airless husband he played in 2014’s Gone Girl. In that spectacular film, Nick, like Vic, also had a sociopathic wife who hated him. But her resentment was spurred on by Nick’s lack of ambition; he peaked too early in life. There’s much more menace and much less opacity with Vic, who presents as more of a loser than Nick ever did. Though Vic and Nick’s brow furrows and sighs come from the same Affleck, Vic’s originate from frustrated exasperation while Nick’s are more idiocy. Affleck is a guru of calibrating and finding the difference between.

Affleck and de Armas’s performances, bolstered with murders (plural!), twunks, snails (Vic has a snail garden), jazz, and unhinged bouts of resentful fellatio have created one of my favorite movies in recent memory. I can’t think of a sillier, sexier time on film. Deep Water is the movie you’ll want to text your friends about, and then invite them over to watch again, together, so you can witness their reactions when, say, de Armas pantomimes plucking one of Affleck’s stray pubic hairs out of her teeth.

Deep Water also functions as a cherished reminder of the infamous Affleck/de Armas real-life relationship, trapped eternally in amber. Both have since moved on — she’s playing Marilyn Monroe, and he reignited the couple known as Bennifer — but the psychosexual thriller was supposedly so powerful that it sparked a romance.

The two reportedly fell for each other when Deep Water was filmed in fall of 2019. They became a visible couple in March 2020, right before the pandemic shut down all social life in the US. Perhaps because of the lack of anyone doing anything and de Armas’s newfound stardom (Knives Out was released in the fall of 2019), photographers spent a lot of time tracking Affleck and de Armas’s activities together. They took walks, drank Dunkin’ coffee together, took more walks, drank more coffee. They officially became the “It” couple of the pandemic quarantine. Their eventual breakup reinforced Affleck’s relatable everyman status, as he began to consume more coffee and order things off Amazon. In the same period, de Armas famously blocked the Ana de Armas Updates stan Twitter account that fervently supported the starlet.

What a fun and honestly embarrassing moment in time for anyone terminally online! Which many of us were, in those early pandemic days.

It was a time many things were taken from us — and for a brief stretch, it looked like we might not get this movie. It was delayed multiple times and then taken off the release schedule. It’s gone straight to Hulu, but it’s survived. We may never know how close we were to losing Deep Water forever! And thankfully, we never will.

Deep Water is currently streaming on Hulu.

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