Netflix's Thriller 'Fatal Affair' Lives Up to Its Name

Amazingly enough, 'Fatal Affair' approaches this hackneyed subgenre with finesse and a bit of welcome inventiveness.

fatal affair netflix nia long omar epps

No matter how often movies are built upon the timeworn premise of relationships -- or better yet, entanglements -- leading to deadly consequences, there’s something about the tumultuous and disturbing nature of romances gone astray that always makes for easy entertainment. Fatal Affair, Netflix’s new psychological thriller starring Nia Long and Omar Epps that's been sitting in the platform's Top 10, is no exception.

As with any effort that follows the mythos of Fatal Attraction, films like Fatal Affair carry with them a bit of stigma. Going into it, you’d probably bet money that it’s going to have an intense extramarital sex scene, a chilling descent into insanity, and a gory ending with one of the lovers scorned left standing. Even the title leaves little to the imagination about the film’s content, but amazingly enough, Fatal Affair approaches this hackneyed subgenre with finesse and a bit of welcome inventiveness.

It doesn’t shy away from heavily leaning into clichés and predictable situations altogether -- that just comes with the territory. Fatal Affair simply wouldn’t be as fun if you couldn’t see all the blatant warning signs that Ellie (Long) doesn’t see in David (Epps). A guy who randomly pops up after not seeing you for 20 years, volunteers that he took a job offer at your law firm because he knows you work there, and aggressively tries to have sex with you on what was supposed to be a friendly group outing tends to have a “stay the fuck away from me” sign glued to his forehead. Yet of course, Ellie quickly becomes trapped in a dangerous situation with David nonetheless, causing the events of Fatal Affair to unfold.

From that point on, the pacing is perfect -- deliberate enough to let the madness sink in, but quick enough to keep the viewer captivated -- and bodies start to drop as David’s alarming psyche is further explored. Interestingly, his obsession with Ellie is deeper than she, as well as viewers, initially expect. David has been killing people long before he reunited with Ellie, and his first victims were his ex-wife and her partner. Knowing how films like this usually end, seeing David’s history of murderous violence -- which actually serves as the film’s opening scene -- makes his actions feel conceivable. When it’s revealed that his first wife was a spitting image of Ellie, it makes David’s drive to be with her, despite never having any sexual relations with her, more plausible and all the more unsettling. 

Surprisingly, David is probably one of the most grounded aspects of Fatal Affair. Other than his superhuman abilities that suddenly arise in the climactic final moments of the film, most of his decisions make sense for his character. Unfortunately, Ellie’s actions often seem irrational when compared to her development. She thoroughly loves her husband and daughter and goes to extreme lengths to protect them, so when Fatal Affair overplays marital issues between Ellie and her husband (Stephen Bishop) to justify her (not quite an) affair, Long’s character is swept into a cheap narrative tactic to rush things into motion. 

However, she makes up for her uncharacteristic choices by quickly deducting that David is probably a serial killer, especially considering that an entire police force couldn’t solve his past crimes. Rather than assuming the role of his next victim, Ellie is brave when confronting him and proactive when trying to protect those around her. In the terrifyingly funny, "Who the hell is Debra?" moment, it's clear that even in wild situations, she’s a force to be reckoned with. 

Yes, Netlix’s Fatal Affair not only skips out on portraying an all-out affair, but it also edges past the premise of it being a fatal love story, with the final moments purposefully avoiding closure on the fate of one of its main characters. The ending is extremely unsatisfying considering the ramped-up action of the scenes preceding it, but it’s one of Fatal Affair’s most sound decisions. Without ending in insane -- but expected -- bloodshed or even featuring a scene where the protagonist has sex with their unstable counterpart, Fatal Affair sticks to the shallow formula that we begrudgingly love while creating a thrilling film that still manages to subvert a few expectations.

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Joshua Robinson is a contributor to Thrillist.