Fatal Affair and all the images you see in this review are owned by Netflix
Directed by Peter Sullivan
I’ve seen my fair share of Black Romance Thrillers in my time, even Tyler Perry’s… interesting take on the genre, and if nothing else they tend to be ENGAGING if not always GOOD. Well… maybe not The Perfect Guy which I recall being rather dull on top of being not especially well made, but in any case, as soon as I learned that Netflix was releasing one of these under a suspect title (if The Asylum hasn’t already made a knock-off thrill with this same name, I will be VERY disappointed) and starring Omar Epps, I was there ready to see it unfold! Heck, one of my biggest regrets from last year is that his theatrical film Traffik came and went before I got a chance to see it, so perhaps this is my chance to redeem myself and give this man the credit he so rightfully deserves! Does Netflix have yet another hit to brag about in this era where streaming is king, or is this just another mediocre outing that’s sole purpose is to bolster Netflix’s catalog? Let’s find out!!
The life of Ellie Warren (Nia Long) has turned a corner and there’s nothing but blue skies ahead! Her husband (Stephen Bishop) was hurt recently but is finally recovering, they got the big beautiful beach house they’ve always wanted, and as soon as this big case is over at the law firm, she’s going to start her own practice so she can finally be a literal Girl Boss instead of just being the figurative one at the office! Heck, things get even better when an old college friend of hers named David Hammond (Omar Epps) is hired by the law firm and they get to catch up on old times! Boy, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s like a whole lot of life has slipped away between her carefree college days and her grown-up life where her own daughter (Aubrey Cleland) is the one in college now. In fact, things are getting kind of stale, aren’t they; especially with her husband who’s kind of a mope ever since the accident. Maybe David has something to offer Ellie… IS WHAT I WOULD BE SAYING IF SHE WASN’T A PERSON OF SUCH HIGH VIRTUE!! Sure, she makes out with him at a dance club, but she regrets it immediately and cuts all contact with David just to make it clear that she’s NOT INTERESTED! That’s not good enough for David though who’s got a chip on his shoulder and a degree in Information Security, so for the next few weeks, he makes her life a living hell; calling her constantly, finding ways to ingratiate himself into her social circle, and even making fake screenshots of text conversations that apparently everyone would be willing to believe in a heartbeat. Will Ellie be able to escape from the tightening grip of David’s obsession? Why has he chosen now to make his big move on her, and is there something in his past that’s even darker than what we’re seeing now? Who wants to bet this dude’s Twitter feed has more red flags than a MGTOW forum?
I can’t exactly say that I’m disappointed because so many of these COVID releases have been underwhelming, but this is perhaps the least fun and most boring entry I’ve seen in this genre. I’ve always maintained that a genuinely bad movie is worse than a boring one, but that’s being tested here because despite how tasteless When The Bough Breaks was at points, it at least HAD some sort of taste to it; a distinct flavor that made its misguided narrative even more cringe-worthy to watch but at least filled it with a sense of LIFE and PASSION. There’s no passion here. Heck, there’s no COLOR in it either given how washed out the cinematography is! Whether it’s due to budget limitations or its VERY tame content, there seems to be no ambition than to meekly copy films that have come before it, and in doing so highlights its own failings even more. Even Omar Epps who I KNOW is a good actor can’t save this movie, but then I don’t even think Morris Chestnut could have made this dreck and less tedious; and that’s his specialty!
What makes this movie so dull and a chore to sit through is just how scaled back everything feels and how ultimately sexless the whole scenario feels. Sure, not EVERY movie in this genre needs to have violence, death, histrionics, and depravity, but if you’re NOT going to have that then what are you going to replace it with? I mentioned The Perfect Guy earlier and, you know, maybe I was a bit unfair to that film which for all its faults at least had the strength of Michael Ealy, Morris Chestnut, and Sanaa Lathan putting in solid performances as well as a core premise that, while pretty extreme and out there, is at least competently realized throughout the film. Omar Epps has the exact same backstory here as a HACKER who becomes obsessed with a woman, but where The Perfect Guy took the time to see how Michael Ealy used his skills to try and ruin her life (going through the trouble of watching him set up the equipment and hacking into her private accounts), this can barely summon the effort to have our stalker DO anything; let alone pay off his hacker background. There’s like ONE photo-shopped image and ONE camera in the entire thing and they’re used for rather mundane acts of cruelty; odd a phrasing as that may be. Heck, there’s next to no violence in the movie as Omar Epps THREATENS people but the movie assures us over and over again that nothing TOO icky is going to happen. So a half-baked premise, clichéd narrative, and not much in terms of genuine sexuality or violence to spice things up (the sex scenes that ARE in the movie feel cold and mechanical), leaves us with… what? Nothing except a bunch of uninteresting characters going through the motions without any real heart or soul to any of it; a series of events that look familiar but don’t have the depth of character or genuine human emotion to get us invested in the thematic elements or even the suspenseful danger.
At first, I was thinking that this would get a very soft recommendation for me because even if it’s the store brand version of better movies, it does its job well enough at a merely passable imitation, but as the movie went along it just kept getting hung up on bad ideas, corny moments, and some baffling filmmaking hiccups. Perhaps the most pervasive issue I had with the movie was the color pallet which is washed out, dull, and saps all the energy out of every scene in the movie. I guess you could argue that the desaturated colors add to the dread and tension, but for a movie like this, you want PASSION and INTRIGUE; HUMANITIES FLAWS AND WHIMS ON FULL DISPLAY! You want to grab people by their heartstrings in a movie like this and a few saturated colors here and there would have livened this up immensely, but nope! Make everything look like it was shot on a phone because grittiness is all we can do on this budget! Whatever tension they were hoping to get out of the movie from making it look so stark is lost with some hilariously bad moments throughout. The biggest laugh I got in the ENTIRE movie was when we get a brief flash of Omar Epps’s driver’s license where he is just SCOWLING in his picture for no discernable reason; especially since he’s good at hiding his inner rage so you’d think someone with these kinds of issues with the control that he hasn’t would plaster his snarling murder face on official government documents. Its stuff like this throughout the movie that makes you question how much the filmmaker’s grasped the subject matter; or more likely feared how little the audience would. There’s an adage that what tension is created in the space between what the audience knows and what the characters know, but this film opts for that with the least amount of subtly imaginable and it’s hard to take ANYTHING seriously! My favorite was a scene where Omar Epps has a golf club raised above the husband character reciting a speech about how much he’d LOVE to murder someone to get the woman he loves… before simply putting the golf club into the basket. The husband, by the way, seems to have NO problem with what he just heard over his shoulder, so it’s a scene entirely for the benefit of the audience; and speaking as someone from the audience, we really didn’t need it to get the point across.
If there’s one bright spot, and I’m being generous in using that phrase here, it’s Omar Epps. The guy has a lot of charisma and does a great job of belying a sinister nature underneath his calm demeanor, but it’s wasted on such a hack movie that doesn’t know what to do with what it has. His character goes from zero to sixty on a dime and we don’t see enough of him to really understand his obsession. Compare this with The Intruder where Denis Quaid is given lots of room to really express his love of this house and the property; both in overly sinister and innocently discrete ways. Here, they just shortcut everything. He’s a stalker because a phone keeps going off. He’s obsessed with our main character because characters tell us he’s obsessed and because of some really bad dialogue that he simply isn’t able to sell; though it’s doubtful anyone could have made this work. The rest of the cast isn’t much to write home about with Nia Long being saddled with a role that gives her no room for nuance or humanity; reading her dialogue less as a human being would than as an exposition machine trying to get us from A to B in as short a time as possible. Everyone else just fades into the background. Her daughter is a nothing character with no narrative thread of her own, her best friend is written about on par with an early 2000s slasher victim, and her husband who SHOULD have a lot to do in this story is an absolute nothing of a character. Morris Chestnut may not have had the biggest role in The Perfect Guy, but he made the most of every second he had on there and felt like someone with genuine stakes in what’s going on. This guy played by Stephen Bishop? I can’t even tell if he’s awake for half the scenes considering how low key his performance is. Honestly, with Omar Epps having SOME charm and the Stephen Bishop having none, it’s almost like they WANTED this movie to be about a legitimate affair that Nia Long was having but someone thought it would make her too unlikable of a character and so instead she’s just a bland cardboard cutout surrounded by a movie that can’t be any more interesting than that.
Not every movie like this is going to be as brilliant as The Invisible Man or as brilliant in other ways like The Intruder, but even comparing it to other films within its own sub-genre it falls woefully short. The only advantage this movie has is that it came out at a time when Netflix had next to none of the movies this is clearly ripping off. No The Perfect Guy, no When The Bough Breaks, not even Fatal Attraction, so it at least manages to stand tall next to the low bar that Netflix set for it. For everyone else who can be bothered to use another service or even PAY to watch a movie on Vudu or Prime, this is a hard pass. Aside from Omar Epps going through the Sisyphean task of bringing something to a role that is doing him no favors, there’s nothing about this movie that isn’t a boring retread of something much better. Heck, even the TITLE is better than this movie as there’s barely an affair and there’s barely anything fatal in it! Other than the minutes you spend watching it of course; you’re never getting those back!