Directed by Peter Sullivan, Fatal Affair stars Nia Long as Ellie, and Omar Epps as David, who are embroiled in a very short “affair” (this term should be used as loosely as possible), causing chaos in Ellie’s already “on-the-rocks” marriage with her husband Marcus, who is played by Stephen Bishop.
The film gives us an opening scene filled with promise – dark cinematography, a sensual sex scene, and a murder –and then it falls flat from there.
Films surrounding men with delusions of grandeur are nothing new for the director of Fatal Affair. He has previously directed and written the 2019 film starring Brenda Song, Secret Obsession, where Song’s bout of amnesia means that she forgets her husband, which leaves room for the slick Mike Vogel, to wiggle his way into her life. Sullivan is an old hand at content like this, and it felt as though there was no real attempt to change up the premise of this new film.
Fatal Affair feels like the worse version of Fatal Attraction (1987), but without the rabbit and good acting. It feels rushed and all the characters somehow feel so separated from one another that this could have been filmed during a socially isolated lockdown. In this film, Epps is Glen Close but his vision the “affair” is an awkward five-minute encounter with Ellie in a nightclub toilet which ends in Ellie using the classic line “I can’t. I’m sorry. I have to go.” Much to David’s disappointment.
David then begins his inevitable harassment of Ellie, unbeknownst to her friends and family – sending her messages about “the night before.” making her best friend believe that she is the one with issues, and even going as far to talk to his therapist about Ellie as if they are in an early relationship (a plot device used to further our interest in why his character is so intense without revealing the big ‘twist.’)
It feels as though there is more to be fleshed out in the interactions David and Ellie have with one another. The dialogue feels flat, instead of the intenseness that Sullivan intended for us to feel as viewers.
Even the “final showdown” between the pair feels uncomfortable, almost like there was no budget for more than a single take, with David declaring without heat, “I just believe some things are worth fighting for,” as he grapples with Ellie whilst the Patrice Rushen classic “Forget Me Nots” skips on a vinyl player. The showdown lacks intensity and frankly, the most troubling thing we see is David’s off-beat two-step as he convinces Ellie and us, that they are meant to be.
With the inclusion of a predictable “twist” and all the cliched tropes of a thriller surrounding obsession, it isn’t difficult to predict the ending of this film from 10 minutes in, leaving for a very bored audience and another film that can be placed on the “Black-Leads-Who-Can-Act-But-Have-Decided-Not-To” shelf.
In truth, I always try to give films like this the benefit of the doubt, especially when they have Black leads, always at my own peril. There is a very weird sub-genre of obsession films with Black leads, think Obsessed (2009), The Perfect Guy (2015), and When the Bough Breaks (2016). These films star amazing black leads; Idris, Beyonce, Regina, Sanaa, Michael, and Morris to name a few, but the acting misses the mark in some way or another. Just like Fatal Affair.