Fatal Attraction birthed the “Yuppie Thriller” subgenre, to which this week’s The Gift would not have a place without its existence. Yuppie Thrillers are a fancy way of saying “Fatal Attraction ripoffs” with a little tact. These thrillers are thrillers of privileged people who’s past comes back to bite them in the ass, more or less. After Fatal Attraction came The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Sleeping With The Enemy, Final Analysis, Single White Female… all with the agenda of putting wealthy white people at risk. The genre faded considerably in the mid-90s, as a slight recession hit America. Now, as the economy and the country appears to be rebounding in 2015, The Gift might be trying its hand at a Yuppie Thriller comeback.
But, again, without the plight of Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), The Gift may have never happened. Dan is a family man, a New York attorney with a doting wife (the great Anne Archer), a young daughter, and a tolerant pooch. But early in the picture, Dan shows signs of fatigue with his life, however perfect it may seem. This coincides with the arrival of Alex Forrest (Glenn Close, Oscar nominated but criminally not Oscar winning for her role), a consultant who pops up at his firm and seduces him into a weekend tryst while Dan’s wife and daughter are out of town exploring real estate options.
The sexual adventure is searing and effectively passionate, directed by the master of sultry sex scenes, Adrian Lyne (who typically allowed his actors to have a few drinks before filming these uncomfortable moments). These scenes manage to draw in the audience while simultaneously repelling them from Dan’s poor decision. To say that his decision was poor would soon become an understatement, as Alex’s mental instability begins shining through almost immediately. Soon, Dan is a prisoner to Alex’s psychotic meltdown.
Alex’s instability beging shining through her exotic beauty almost immediately, as the weekend comes to an end and Dan attempts to simply set her aside and return to his ideal life. Alex will not have this, and her mentality fractures with every passing scene. Lyne and the makeup crew do an interesting thing with Close, starting her off as bright and inviting; as her breakdown intensifies, her eyes darken considerably, her look near the end a page shadow of her earlier moments. Close’s performance is threateningly intense, and the screenplay from James Dearden puts the audience on the razor’s edge of alliances. While we are shocked by the imposing psychotic meltdown, we somehow empathize with Alex as Dan is truly the one at fault.
And speaking of Dan, he goes through his own dark transformation as Alex creeps too close to his home life to be ignored. After all, she won’t be ignored, remember? Much like the makeup work done with Close, Douglas’s attire darkens as he falls deeper and deeper into despair. Consider the moment he must tell Beth (Anne Archer) about the affair: Dan is in black clothes from head to toe. The costume and makeup departments on Fatal Attraction work subtle magic throughout, al the way to the end when we see Alex in a white dress, juxtaposing her demeanor just as her breakdown has crescendoed.
There is an issue with Fatal Attraction: it’s ending. The climax of the theatrical version, when Alex pops out of the tub after seemingly being drowned by Dan, has too much of a monster-movie feel. It steals from the intensity in lieu of a jump scare. An alternate ending, featuring Alex committing suicide and Dan being framed for the murder, was shot down by audience reaction, and this more crowd-pleasing climax was put in its place. Perhaps its my dark side, but I prefer the original ending.
Fatal Attraction was a cultural and cinematic watershed moment, deconstructing the now-antiquated practice of businessmen farming affairs while their wives stayed at home. It broke down barriers for the woman scorned, and for a while made men think twice about having a weekend tryst. The Yuppie thriller imitations have never matched the intensity of Adrian Lyne’s film, though many have tried. Judging by the early reviews for Joel Egerton’s The Gift, it may ultimately reinvigorate the subgenre.