Enemy (2013)

A strong mood exercise that brings to the fore a tense psychological mystery that is both twisting and twisted.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #1,018

Dir. Denis Villeneuve
2013 | Canada | Mystery/Drama | 91 mins | 2.35:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Plot: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)

Distributor: A24

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Dark
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 6 Apr 2014
Spoilers: No

The closing image is shuddering.  You have to see it to believe it.  It wraps up nicely the mood and tone of the picture while throwing a curveball at the audience. 

Denis Villeneuve, who is slowly establishing himself as a master filmmaker with powerful works such as Incendies (2010) and Prisoners (2013), delivers a twisting, convoluted psychological mystery that will take time to piece together, that is if your brain is not already messed up by the end credits. 

Enemy, based on the novel by the late Jose Saramago (whose work “Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira” was adapted into Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness (2008)) is a strong exercise in mood setting by using the art of uncertainty to create tension. 

The aesthetic is bleak, though not in any way dystopian, but there is a haunting quality to the cityscape shots of Toronto drenched in beige.  Interior shots are also devoid of clear lighting, giving a dark, gloomy atmosphere.

I suspect Enemy would have worked better as an extended short film of say 30–45 minutes, but Villeneuve’s assured direction pushes it ahead of the finishing line, though not without some effort. 

“Control, it’s all about control.”

His vision for the film is auteuristically foreshadowed by or reminiscent of his brilliant Cannes award-winning short Next Floor (2008), about a group of banquet guests who consume food endlessly until they drop to the next floor because they are too heavy. Both films have a similar visual style and use of sparse music with heavy percussion, and their incredible-sounding plots hide a deeper commentary about us as human beings. 

In Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a history professor who becomes obsessed with an image in a movie.  It is an image of himself.  It scars him psychologically and he attempts to find the actor who looks exactly like him.

His performance is excellent and quietly intense, but what you will remember are spiders, a visual motif that Villeneuve and cast have refused to explain, rightly adding to the mystery.  The movie opens with scenes of men in suits watching a nude woman give birth to a spider.  As weird as that may sound, Enemy somewhat continues in this fascinating trajectory. 

In some way, Villeneuve’s work recalls Mulholland Dr. (2001), though it is never the masterpiece that David Lynch’s film is.  It doesn’t have to be.  Enemy is thought-provoking, unpretentious and experimental.  It is also twisted and disturbing in many ways.

Grade: B+




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