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Hidden Empire Film Group, 2020


Deon Taylor / David Loughery

Reading Time:

4 minutes

00:00 / 04:37

📷 : Licensed from Shutterstock



Image of movie's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects


Image of movie's tea brew

Suspenseful and intense thrillers

Reba Chaisson


Fatale is a story set in the southern California mountains about a wealthy, married man who struggles to extricate himself from the grip of a psychopathic woman, after sleeping with her in Vegas. Trying to do this without his wife learning about the one-night stand proves to be complicated to say the least. While the film’s plot is cliché and contains a few holes, it delivers as a suspense-thriller.

Much of what is predictable about movies like this does not occur in Fatale. Part of it can be explained by the strong performances of Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don’t Cry) and Michael Ealy (Takers, Barbershop), who play Val Quinlan and Derrick Tyler in the lead roles. Another has to do with the viewers being left wondering which one was the ‘bad guy’ creating the conflict in the story.

Movies about obsession tend to get lumped into the same category despite at least one strong distinction among them. The most fundamental is whether a real (versus imagined) intimate, consensual, physical relationship occurred between the obsessed person and the target of his or her obsession. In the 2009 release, Obsessed, starring Beyoncé and Idris Elba, with Ali Larter playing Lisa as the stalker, no actual physical relationship occurs between her and Derek (Idris Elba’s character). At the end, the audience is left with the dampened, simplistic view of Lisa as just another psychopath.

A film that does involve a physical relationship is the classic 1987 release, Fatal Attraction. In it, Michael Douglas portrays a married man who has an affair with Alex, played by Glenn Close, who later obsesses over him. She inserts herself so deeply into his life that she endangers his family and even kills his little girl’s pet rabbit, leaving it in a pot of boiling hot water. The film, however, lets the audience get to know Alex as a competent career woman with a social life. This deepens Alex’s humanity and makes her character complex. As a result, viewers end up sympathizing with her rather than simply dismissing and hating her. Because of this depiction, she is viewed as a tragic character rather than a psychopath like Lisa.

Fatale is much like Fatal Attraction in this respect. The film lets the audience get to know Val as capable and competent. So, she is deeper and more complex than a caricature who can be dismissed as psychotic. In some ways, she is an empathetic character because her experiences–the drivers of her mania–likely resonate with those of some audience members. In some regards, Val is also a sympathetic character who is even rooted for at times. But because the things she does are so over the top, this sympathy and empathy get stretched and shifted to Derek as the story evolves.

How does this happen? How does it happen that our loyalties conflict at times? That our emotions are manipulated like this as a story unfolds? The questions themselves explain why Fatale passes as a thriller. As viewers, we are immersed in this story, given the protagonist, and then emotionally whiplashed. Afterwards though, we have to sit back and reflect. We have to ask ourselves, who is the protagonist in this drama? Who are we supposed to sympathize with when both are presented with complications?

Perhaps an unintended consequence of Fatale is its fodder for discussion about the cost of stress on mental health. This includes noting the pressures to keep it all together with few options for help and no reward to look forward to in the end.

The suspense part of suspense-thriller is clear–what will the climax reveal? But it’s the thriller part that’s the real kicker of Fatale. If you like edge-of-your seat thrillers with themes that cannot be easily dismissed, you might want to consider this one. Oh, and Michael Ealy’s in it too!!!

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