Fatal Affair review – cheap Netflix thriller plays the same old tune

·3-min read

From the company that gave us Secret Obsession and Dangerous Lies comes another Lifetime movie-level “thriller” that pairs two picked-out-of-a-hat genre buzzwords together and comes up with something we’ve seen many, many times before. The surprising success of the aforementioned Netflix originals has caused the streamer to frantically assemble more of the same: low-budget, low-risk TV movies that place vaguely recognisable actors in familiar situations. With Fatal Affair, it’s the 90s stars Nia Long and Omar Epps replaying the endlessly regurgitated Fatal Attraction formula with absolutely nothing new brought to the table.

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In fact, the writer-director Peter Sullivan (whose credits also include Secret Obsession and every micro-budgeted Christmas movie you’ve ever half-watched on Hallmark) and co-writer Rasheeda Garner have made so little effort to disguise just how rote their movie is that I could have sworn I’d seen it before and forgotten. As a fan of the psycho-from-hell subgenre of thriller, which flourished during the early 90s with films such as Single White Female, Pacific Heights and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, I know the beats better than most and my nostalgia for this run has mustered up an affection for even some of the laziest examples ever since (unlike most critics, I had fun with last summer’s The Intruder). But Fatal Affair makes the mistake of plopping itself right in the very middle of the road, without any flourishes of camp or perversity to distinguish itself. There are no left turns or bumps along the way, just a smooth straightforward journey from cliche to cliche, boredom setting in fast.

Ellie (Long) has what appears to be the perfect life but there’s an inertia to her marriage that a fancy new beach house can’t fix. When she encounters her old college friend David (Epps) through work, a fire ignites. Casual drinks turn to drunken dancing, which then turns into a sudden bathroom-based tryst, but before things progress, Ellie leaves, chalking it up to a brief indiscretion. But, as you can probably guess, David isn’t willing to do the same.

It’s then time for some tiresome by-the-numbers stalking as we go from David texting to calling to showing up at the house to befriending those around her to an overwrought ending we can see a mile away. Long tries harder than the material deserves but Epps doesn’t have the charm or menace to sell the Jekyll/Hyde duality that this particular brand of villain desperately needs, and he’s hampered by a hopelessly vanilla script. The creepiest thing he does is sniff her underwear, which is … not creepy enough. There’s nothing that comes close to the show-stopping bunny boil from Fatal Attraction, Sullivan and Garner avoiding anything too weird or risky or psychosexual or even violent, making the dullest decisions at every point. It’s the kind of film in which no one responds to situations like a real human ever would and while this sort of eye-rolling silliness might be acceptable within schlocky so-bad-it’s-good packaging, when it’s made with such mundanity, it just adds to the frustration.

As limp and uninspired as its dumb title, Fatal Affair will probably, depressingly, be another Netflix hit but even the most undemanding viewers will feel cheated.

  • Fatal Affair is now available on Netflix

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