Netflix UK film review: Fatale
90s thriller vibes6
Matthew Turner | On 20, Mar 2021
Director: Deon Taylor
Cast: Hilary Swank, Michael Ealy, Mike Colter, Geoffrey Owens, Damaris Lewis, Tyrin Turner
Watch Fatale online in the UK: Netflix UK
As its title suggests, Fatale is a deliberate throwback to the sort of erotic thrillers that were hugely popular in the 1990s. It’s scripted by David Loughery, who previously collaborated with director Deon Taylor and star Michael Ealy on 2019’s The Intruder, another thriller with strong 90s throwback vibes. (Loughery clearly has an affection for the genre, as he also wrote Obsessed and Lakeview Terrace.)
Ealy plays Derrick Tyler, a married sports agent whose best friend and business partner (Mike Colter) is trying to persuade him to cash out for a big payday. In the midst of marital difficulties, Derrick has a one night stand with Val Quinlan (Hilary Swank), a woman he meets while on a stag night in Vegas.
However, when Derrick is brutally attacked by an apparent burglar, he’s shocked to discover that Val Quinlan is in fact Detective Val Quinlan and that she’s the one assigned to his case. Worse, she turns out to be something of a manipulative psychopath and he’s soon up to his eyeballs in sex and murder.
Taylor’s script effectively bolts together several tried-and-tested thriller plots, most notably from Fatal Attraction (one-night-stand-turns-obsessive-psycho-stalker) and 1992’s Unlawful Entry – one of the best examples of the Fill-in-the-blank From Hell erotic thriller subgenre, with Ray Liotta as a psycho cop menacing Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe. Fatale also throws in a key plot element from a Hitchcock movie towards the end for good measure.
The main problem is that you can see the joins between the different plots too clearly, to the point where you start wishing the film would pick a lane and stick to it – for example, Swank isn’t really the full-on obsessive stalker cop the film seems to think she is, and you can’t help wondering if that might have made for a better film.
On a similar note, the film is packed with fun twists, but they’re all completely predictable, not least because the tiny supporting cast doesn’t allow for any alternatives when it comes to possible suspects in the home invasion attack. The result is that very few of the supposed shocks actually deliver the intended gasps, although Taylor does at least pull off a couple of decent jump scares – and further compensates with a number of good suspense sequences.
Swank, for her part, is terrific as Quinlan, underplaying it to strong effect and even generating sympathy for her character in the process. Similarly, Ealy is particularly good playing the sort of character that the audience secretly enjoys seeing bad things happen to – in the 90s, these thrillers were often called yuppie-in-peril thrillers and Ealy makes a great yuppie.
Stylistically, the film takes a couple of interesting gambles, some that work and some that don’t. The colour palette is very odd – it’s all washed out greys, blacks and browns, except for Ealy’s purple-lit swimming pool (something the film’s marketing picked up on for its poster), which is bafflingly ignored in the film, considering how often it pulls focus in the background of a scene. Geoff Zanelli’s soundtrack is also very strange, eschewing the standard erotic thriller saxophone in favour of a distinctive and unsettling series of thumps, scrapes and weird noises. It’s a bold choice, but it kind of works, particularly in the more suspenseful moments.
Ultimately, Fatale delivers enough trashy entertainment to make it worth your while, especially if you don’t try too hard to second-guess it. Here’s hoping Taylor, Loughery and Ealy continue their 90s thriller throwback streak with further collaborations.
Fatale is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.