New thriller ‘BAD MATCH’ is a clever, fun subversion of misogynistic ‘FATAL ATTRACTION’ knockoff thrillers
The plot of Bad Match, a new thriller streaming now on Netflix, seems at first like a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl, boy uses girl for sex, girl feels used for sex, girl ruins boy’s life.
It’s a plot familiar to anyone who has seen any number of thrillers since 1987’s Fatal Attraction sparked the bunny-boiler trope; in that film, Michael Douglas’s married-man character dares to have an affair with Glenn Close’s mentally unstable femme fatale, and when he fails to leave his wife for her, the whole thing proves, well, fatal. As numerous critics have noted since, including Glenn Close herself, what was originally intended as a story about a philandering man and the multiple sympathetic women he wronged became instead a cautionary tale about the violent, insane, murderous embodiment of what happens when women are allowed to take charge of their bodies and their careers. Audience sympathies were so thoroughly aligned against Close’s character Alex that, famously, audience members reportedly chanted “Kill the bitch!” at the screen as Alex met her end.
In Bad Match, though, the story is given a glossy, modern update. Instead of being a married man, our apparent protagonist Harris (Jack Cutmore-Scott, star of the new ABC series Deception that premieres later this week) is an Internet-addicted playboy, the kind of guy who swipes right on a hundred girls a day so the numbers work out in his favor and he can sleep with a different woman every night. The film starts out light and airy, giving almost no hint of the dark, twisted thriller it’s about to become. The music is romcom-plucky, the lighting bright and the characters jovial.
His coworker and his best friend tease him good-naturedly about his frequent sleeping around; we get the sense that this guy is going to be taught a lesson, just like Michael Douglas learned a lesson in Fatal Attraction about the importance of preserving his nuclear family. Sure enough, when Harris meets Riley (Lili Simmons), looking for yet another one-night stand, he’s surprised to find himself meeting up with her several more times, as she continues to call and text him after the next morning. We’re still in romcom territory here. Is Riley going to be the woman who finally teaches the playboy that settling down is the way to go?
Instead, she overhears him cruelly describing her to his friends as “sad” and “psycho” because of how frequently she texts him, and she goes full Fatal Attraction, refusing to let him off the hook. She confronts him, calling him a number of expletive-laden insults, signaling a turn in a movie that has been mostly curse-free until this point, and storms off. He hopes it will be the last time he hears from her; we know it won’t be. Soon, he finds his life falling apart. After someone hacks his twitter account and posts nasty messages about his boss, he loses his job, and then he wakes up one morning to find his apartment overrun by cops, searching his laptop after receiving a tip that he’s been downloading child pornography….. and they find it.
He tells his public defender that he knows who’s ruining his life: Riley. He doesn’t have any evidence, his lawyer points out, but Harris just knows that Riley is obsessed with him and is out to get revenge. After all, she’s one of those girls. She just keeps calling! Harris has clearly seen Fatal Attraction.
From there, the movie devolves into an all-out battle between Harris, an increasingly-misogynistic embodiment of toxic masculinity, and Riley, a scorned, vengeful beauty who, Harris insists, seems to check every bunny-boiling box (aside from actually boiling a bunny).
Bad Match is written and directed by first-time director David Chirchirillo, who has an impressive mastery of tone and guides the film from its fluffy opening, through the increasingly-tense middle act, to the shocking, brutal finale. Chirchirillo has a keen sense of where the audience sympathies lie in any given scene or even shot, and his script is able to upend and subvert those sympathies several times throughout the film’s final act.
The film looks great, too. Riley is wearing a stunning red dress when she and Harris first meet (as was the girl from the previous night), and we at first think these women are introducing passion into his life — Harris himself is mostly clad in more neutral tones like browns and greys. However, as the film grows and mutates and unfurls, it’s clear that the oppressive red that slowly takes over the color palette — to the point where the finale largely takes place in what appears to be a formless red void — represents something quite different and far more sinister… simmering rage.
I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that Bad Match is very much worth a watch if the misogyny inherent in Fatal Attraction-style thrillers has ever rubbed you the wrong way. The film isn’t perfect — it could stand to flesh out its supporting characters much more, especially the supporting characters of color, and it commits the unpardonable sin of having outgoing text messages appear on the left side of the screen and incoming ones on the right, even though no operating system or messaging app works that way — but it’s a fun ride, and at only 1 hour and 23 minutes, it’s a quick watch. Hopefully this represents a way forward for more nuanced gender dichotomies in films about asshole guys “wronged” by clingy women, and hopefully it leads its director and stars on to bigger and better things.