Netflix UK film review: Fatal Affair
Copying better thrillers4
Matthew Turner | On 05, Aug 2020
Director: Peter Sullivan
Cast: Nia Long, Omar Epps, Stephen Bishop, Aubrey Cleland, Maya Stojan, KJ Smith
Watch Fatal Affair online in the UK: Netflix UK
Rather than stocking up on erotic thrillers from the 90s – Basic Instinct, Single White Female, that sort of thing – Netflix seems to have decided to make its own knock-off versions instead. Hot on the heels of Dangerous Lies (Riverdale’s Camila Mendes drawn into “a web of corruption and murder”) comes Fatal Affair, an uninspired, flatly delivered retread of the Fatal Attraction formula.
Nia Long plays Ellie, a successful San Francisco lawyer who’s struggling to rekindle the spark in her long-time marriage to Marcus (Stephen Bishop), now that their grown-up daughter Brittany (Aubrey Cleland) is headed to university. When her old school friend David (Omar Epps) gets a job at her firm, Ellie accepts his invite to go for a drink after work and they end up in a brief passionate encounter in the bar toilets, before Ellie comes to her senses and leaves.
Unbeknownst to her, David is a serial stalker with some serious anger issues. Before you can say “bunny boiler”, he’s spying on her, sending her constant messages, showing up in unexpected places and generally inserting himself into her life however he can, chiefly by dating her best friend. But how far will he go to get what he wants?
Long and Epps are both fine, but there’s no chemistry between them, which effectively means the film is scuppered from the get-go. Worse, the film doesn’t even have the guts to deliver on its own premise: it would have been much more interesting if they had actually had an affair, but that’s not what happens here – it’s really more of a Fatal Fumble.
The main problem is that the film plays it way too safe, from the sex scene that isn’t a sex scene to violence that’s either heavily sanitised or occurs offscreen (rest assured, no bunnies get boiled here). Put simply, a film in this genre needs to get down and dirty or it’s simply not worth the effort.
Much of the blame lies with Peter Sullivan’s direction, which is so relentlessly by-the-numbers that it’s actually boring. Accordingly, there’s not a moment of the film that isn’t entirely predictable, as it slowly trots through all the usual clichés, without once doing anything interesting or different.
In fairness, there are hints of a better film lurking under the surface. Epps, for example, is clearly playing David as a man damaged by past trauma, but the film only gives a passing nod to that (a brief therapy session) and refuses to explore it in any detail. Similarly, there’s the potential to make Ellie a more complex character, in terms of her own actions and the resulting guilt – but, once again, the film ignores all of that in favour of generic, stalker-based peril.
Ultimately, there’s nothing in Fatal Affair that hasn’t been done a hundred times better elsewhere. On the plus side, maybe the film’s decent viewing figures will convince someone at Netflix that there’s a hunger for this sort of thing and that they should take a punt on picking up some of the acknowledged classics of the genre. Here’s hoping.
Fatal Attraction is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.