Ahh, the erotic thriller. A genre that seldom gets explored as often as it did in its 1980’s/1990’s heyday - save for the occasional Netflix offering - Fatale hopes it can reinvigorate the brand by securing considerable star wattage to indulge in the sexy trash these films so often adhere to. Not unlike 2015’s ludicrous sizzler The Boy Next Door with Jennifer Lopez, Fatale offers Hilary Swank (yes, two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank) the chance to dive into the melodramatic, sex-driven world of the genre, where subtlety is non-existent and the worse you are at acting, the better the film is. Of course, there’s a difference between a guilty pleasure and movies that are just bad, and Fatale very much flirts with being a product that’s woefully misguided even if it wants you to think it’s doing so intentionally.
Deon Taylor has made a career for himself by making predominantly cheap, urban-focused features that in spite of critical blasting have mostly all turned something of a profit. Somehow managing to convince Dennis Quaid to go full unhinged for 2019’s The Intruder obviously gave Taylor the confidence to seemingly poach more well-known talent, leading Swank to agree to this midday movie-type thriller that lacks any personality. Clearly at odds with how to communicate with his cast, Fatale is void of subtlety and finesse throughout.
The blueprint for an erotic thriller is supremely standard, but they so often exist under the banner of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Whilst you could give Fatale points for slightly altering its course in that the obsessed object is a little more high-profile and powerful than usual, it still very much travels as you expect. The unhappily married man (Michael Ealy) having a one night stand in Vegas is as standard as it gets, but Fatale at least has a bit of fun making his bedroom buddy (Swank) a celebrated police detective, one who ends up handling an investigation that said married man is at the centre of. It’s tangled, but it could have been fun if David Loughery’s script truly committed to this dynamic in the same manner he framed the similarly themed, but infinitely more entertaining Beyonce-led thriller Obsessed. Swank handling Ealy’s suspicious home invasion attack, both trying to keep their Vegas activities under wraps in the process would have been enough, but dialling her own story arc up to 11 by introducing her killer determination to achieve custody of her daughter from her smarmy ex means the film has all the crazy it needs, it just doesn’t know how to navigate so many avenues.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The only reason Fatale is remotely watchable is because of Swank. Another actress who has seemingly succumbed to the “Oscar curse”, the material she’s been afforded as of late hasn't exactly done her CV any favours, but she’s enjoying herself all the same. It’s so rare the actress gets to tap into her sexuality, and the earlier scenes where she’s seducing Ealy - and hints at her obsessive personality - play into the film’s more entertaining moments. As her gaze becomes more steely and her behaviour more erratic, Swank continually livens the otherwise pedestrian film up, and by the time she’s wielding a shotgun during Fatale’s wild finale, you’ve either embraced her maniacal temperament or likely to have passed out from all the alcohol you’ll need to properly enjoy the film. Ealy lets his piercing eyes do most of his work - he’s very much sleepwalking through proceedings here - with every other cast member failing to make any lasting impression beyond being aesthetically pleasing.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Given Ealy’s character is a sports agent he naturally lives in the type of unattainable estate only movies can conjure up, so Fatale at least scores a few points for making his abode - complete with a turntable for his sports car to be displayed on - wildly attractive.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Geoff Zanelli has worked with director Taylor on a slew of other projects, so there’s evidently trust there. But, just as Taylor is unable to bring any personal flair to the story, so too is Zanelli unable to make his soundtrack anything other than generic and predictable. Next to the wildly unsubtle music cues - they feel almost comical in their use - the R&B-heavy soundtrack is as stereotypical as it gets.
I love me a good erotic thriller, and the trashier the better, but Fatale never quite reaches the heights of pure unadulterated fun. What should've been extra is just a basic thriller, albeit with a little convolution, that only succeeds off the commitment from Swank. She deserves so much better than this, but she’s having a ball as she flaunts her sexuality and feeds off the power she believes she has. Once this arrives to stream, perhaps gather a group of like-minded cohorts and copious amounts of alcohol to survive the 100 minutes of lunacy that only occasionally submits to the garbage it should be.
Lionsgate will release FATALE - January 8, 2021 on PVOD