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Thursday, August 10, 2023

‘Fatale’ Brings Race Into the Erotic Thriller Mix [Sex Crimes]

For all of the murder and crime that occurs in Erotic Thrillers, more often than not, the police are barely present in the subgenre. If the protagonist isn’t a cop, there might be a detective on the margins or a beat cop taking a statement at a crime scene, but more often than not, law enforcement is typically absent.

Fatale upends this convention in part by fusing a stalker/infidelity storyline with a crooked cop plot wherein the jilted woman is also the film’s detective.

The film’s other novel twist, courtesy of screenwriter David Loughery, is that the central pairing is interracial. Loughery, who is white, is no stranger to exploring race in his screenplays: he co-wrote 2008’s Lakeview Terrace, in which Samuel L Jackson is a crooked cop who terrorizes neighbor Patrick Wilson, as well as 2009’s Obsessed, in which Beyonce must defend her marriage from obsessed white woman Ali Larter.*

*Given the allegations about Larter on Heroes, there’s much more to unpack there, so that may be a future column.

Fatale is about successful Los Angeles sports agent Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy), who seemingly has it all. He and his best friend Rafe (Mike Colter) own their own business, he drives an expensive convertible, and owns an incredible house.

But Derrick notices a growing divide between him and his wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis), whose behavior arouses his suspicions that she’s having an affair. On a bachelor party trip to Vegas, Rafe encourages Derrick to have a one-night stand, which he agrees (far too readily) to.

Enter Val Quinlan (Hilary Swank). She’s introduced swaggering up to the bar to brush off the advances of a douchey guy, then striking up flirtatious banter with Derrick before they hit the dance floor. In the morning, Val refuses to let Derrick leave for his flight home before he sexually satisfies her a second time, establishing a pattern of dominance and control that defines the rest of their relationship. It’s red flag number one.

Almost immediately after Derrick returns home, he’s narrowly avoids being shot by a masked intruder in a home invasion. Considering that Tracie rushes to him rather than call the police (as any normal person would do), that’s red flag number two.

When the police arrive, it is revealed that <gasp> Val is actually a detective. From that point on, she begins to make his life a living hell; not just because she wants more sex, but because she has her own agenda.

On the surface, Fatale has a fairly simple premise built around the traditional Hollywood narrative of “be careful who you sleep with.” Loughery shakes up a familiar narrative with two complicating elements: 1) Tracie and Rafe are secret lovers who planned to kill Derrick for his share of the business and 2) Val is terrorizing/blackmailing Derrick because she wants him to kill her shitty ex-husband Carter Heywood (Danny Pino), whose political connections ensure she’ll never get regain custody of their child after she was convicted of criminal negligence for the drunken fatal shooting of another.

It sounds like a lot, but…surprisingly it’s not. Fatale’s weakest element is its sheer predictability: not only is Val’s psychotic behavior easy to deduce, so is Rafe and Tracie’s tryst. If anything, the film’s biggest surprises are how quickly these plot points are revealed: Rafe and Tracie initially seem like significant players, but Val kills them before the film’s halfway point as leverage against Derrick.

It’s messy and often feels undercooked, like two or even three narratives piled on top of each other, but without any of the accompanying tension or mystery. Adding to this is the paper-thin characterization of Val as the film’s central antagonist: it’s never clear why she is so upset that Derrick lied to her about his name and marital status in Vegas (she takes it very personally) and her addiction and family backstory is awkwardly shoe-horned in, especially the scenes from her perspective.

While a lot of Fatale doesn’t entirely click, its most fascinating element is the depiction of race. As a white woman and a police officer, Val holds all of the power in the relationship. Despite Derrick’s incredible wealth and success as a sports agent, all it takes for Val to undermine his life is to dig up his record and ties to his dodgy cousin Tyrin (Tyrin Turner).

It’s here that Fatale leans into uncomfortable racial stereotypes. Of course, Derrick couldn’t just be a successful Black man; the character has a criminal history that includes armed robbery, which would have threatened his basketball scholarship had Tyrin not taken the fall for him. There’s even a line about how desperate Derrick was to “get out of the projects.”

Despite this, there is an undeniable real world sensibility to the way that Val targets and then exploits Derrick. It’s rare for an Erotic Thriller to venture into interracial romance, much less attempt to tackle the stark realities about how the police target African-Americans.

When Derrick tries to push back, Val regularly reminds him of her ability to plant evidence and spin the story in the media and although the film’s ending predictably kills her off and clears his name in a very conventional fashion, the speed with which Derrick goes from celebrated public figure to pariah is spot on.

There are a few other reasons to recommend Fatale. Despite its often ludicrous and predictable plot, Ealy and Swank have solid chemistry. The sex is relatively chaste, but director Deon Taylor and cinematographer Dante Spinotti get good mileage out of some of the action sequences, especially a propulsive bathroom shoot-out when Tyrin tries to deal with Val on his own. There’s also a tense elevator climax, which plays like a homage to past Erotic Thrillers like Dressed to Kill and Fatal Attraction; the violence here is surprisingly brutal as Val and Derrick face off in close quarters.

While the film is frequently absurd and illogical, there’s something pleasurably trashy about Fatale. It’s not a strong recommend, but it is quite watchable and the exploration of race, while frequently verging on stereotypical, expands the scope of the subgenre in intriguing directions.

2.5 out of 5 skulls

Sex Crimes is a column that explores the legacy of erotic thrillers.

The post ‘Fatale’ Brings Race Into the Erotic Thriller Mix [Sex Crimes] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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