‘Fatale’ Is A Sexy Thriller So Bad It Becomes Incredibly Engaging

Hilary Swank (Valerie) and Michael Ealy (Derrick) stand next to each other at a bar, purple and blue lighting shining on them from the left. They are both looking at each other in a flirtatious way.

Michael Ealy plays Derrick, a man who seemingly has it all. He’s a successful self-made sports agent at the top of his career with a show home in the Hollywood Hills, sharply tailored suits and a fancy office.

On a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate a bachelor party with his friend Rafe (Mike Colter), the married Derrick has a one-night stand with Val (Hilary Swank). She’s a thinly written seductress, sat at the bar in a little black dress waiting on her prey. Then follows a night of passionless, unsexy and unconvincingly wooden sex. Anyone looking for a sex-driven romp, needn’t bother with Fatale.

Derrick starts to become concerned when he discovers she has locked his phone in the hotel safe, to retrieve it he must get back into bed with her. Somehow this lack of consent is never commented on or treated like it’s anything more than crazy woman being crazy. Derrick’s excuse for his infidelity is that he believes his wife is cheating, concerned her upcoming career in property is a cover for an affair.

When Derrick returns home, he is soon brutally attacked in a home invasion. When the police arrive, the detective in charge turns out to be Val. She doesn’t try to hide her displeasure that Derrick is a married man who gave her a false name. Derrick soon enlists his ex-con cousin (Tyrin Turner) to help him track down the intruder. This is when Fatale gets crazy, with murders, affairs and a weak nod to Black Lives Matter.

Val has her own issues. She is involved in a bitter fight with her ex-husband (Danny Pino) over the custody of her daughter. Val hasn’t been blessed with a huge amount of character depth, her main character trait appears to be the lack of letting go. She’s obviously hung up by her husband’s political career and will not let what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas. At times Swank has fun playing up the crazy, at times it’s just awkwardly wooden.

Screenwriter David Loughery brings his usual subtle hand to Fatale. There is plot twist after plot twist, easily giving audiences whiplash. Credit to the writer, few of the twists are predictable, mainly because they make no sense when given a minutes thought. Those experienced in the genre will find nothing new as the only innovation in the script is that every plot twist imaginable appears to have been put into the movie.

The sexy noir thriller genre is often unkind to their female villains. For better or worse, Fatale has tried to subvert these cliches. Not a single character in this film is likable or garners any sympathy. Everyone is materialistic social climbers, everyone cheats, and everyone seems strangely comfortable with murder. It’s shocking to see multi-nominated Oscar-winner such as Hilary Swank be in such bad form. Ealy, a usually charming actor, is incredibly wooden and Colter’s character is so thinly written he has nowhere to showcase his skills.  In the end the only people you feel sorry for are the talented actors, who for some reason signed up for this unsexy thriller.

Despite all these downfalls, Fatale is incredibly watchable. If you want to switch off and enjoy a B-movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this is the film for you. Director, Deon Taylor is slick enough to keep the ridiculous story running at an engaging speed. The film looks great, especially if you enjoy a bit of rich Hollywood Hills poverty porn. Dante Spinotti’s glossy cinematography and high-end design saves this from becoming a TV special. 

There is nothing beneath the surface of Fatale. The thinly penned characters are defined more by what they have, rather than who they are. Charlie Campbell’s production design makes apartments look like private clubs and offices look like Ikea showrooms. The thinly veiled attempt at having a social conscience is soon looked over in favour of glossy sets and a trendy soundtrack. Why talk about consent or the treatment of black men by the police when we could see another pool?

Fatale is a car crash of a film, but one that you can’t look away from. Every twist gets more and more ridiculous. The cast of usually charismatic and talented actors appear to have decided to not even try. Fatale is an entirely enjoyable wreck of a thriller that is stuck in the 1980s, for all the wrong reasons.

Fatale is available select theatres and virtual cinemas in the US now

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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