Enemy

By
Curtis Woloschuk

At first glance, Denis Villeneuve's recent filmography seems wildly varied. 2009's Polytechnique was an impressionistic, claustrophobic black-and-white account of the notorious Montreal university massacre. Oscar nominee Incendies followed, charting two siblings' odyssey in the Middle East. And last fall, the Quebec filmmaker finally went Hollywood with the coldblooded child abduction thriller Prisoners.

However, look a little closer and it becomes apparent that all of these films feature individuals who are wrestling with their identities and confronting their true natures. And how better for a character to engage in such self-reflection than by having him take a long, hard look at himself? Oddly enough (and it gets very odd indeed), this is literally what Jake Gyllenhaal finds himself doing in Enemy, Villeneuve's newest exercise in suspense.

Adam (Gyllenhaal) toils as a history prof in a sickly hued Toronto, relating the same Hegel quotes to his class ("Everything in history happens twice.") before returning home to have his daily dose of hot sex with his icy girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). When he finally breaks from his routine by renting a movie, his somnambulistic existence is subsequently shattered. Lingering in the background of a scene is Anthony, a struggling actor who doubles as Adam's doppelgänger (and is played by Gyllenhaal). Furthermore, he also has a pretty blonde of his own at home (Sarah Gadon).

Proving to be a poster boy for David Lynch's suggestion that "we're all like detectives in life," Adam quickly becomes entangled in a perverse mystery. (Isabella Rossellini even turns in an appearance, welcoming further Lynch comparisons that Enemy weathers rather well.) The moment he reaches out to his double, their realities start to bleed into one another's. In his best performance since... well, Prisoners, actually... Gyllenhaal is spectacular in the twin roles, particularly in portraying Adam's doomed realization that he's unleashed a predatory, unprincipled monster seemingly created in his own image.

Appearing to consider Javier Gullón's screenplay (itself an adaption of José Saramago's novel) more of a suggestion than scripture, Villeneuve sculpts a story that's as reliant on patterns of behaviour and parallel images as it is on traditional plot. "Maybe we're brothers," Anthony suggests when the two finally meet. However, that explanation is far too rationale for a fever dream like this.

Using Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans' lush score in the key of Bernard Herrmann to conjure a mood that hangs like an intoxicating fog, Villeneuve unspools 90 minutes of images both seductive and unsettling. Rather than offering any closure, the astonishing closing shot only inspires further questions. Nevertheless, it confirms that Villeneuve has assembled a masterful trap to ensnare us. The puzzles presented here linger, clinging like the strands of a cobweb you've unsuspectingly wandered through. Ultimately, there are moments that may prove unshakeable.

Rest assured, Villeneuve's headf*ck is far more than just a one night stand. You'll want to see it again.

Follow Curtis on Twitter: @CurtisWoloschuk

'Enemy' is released in the US/Canada on 14 March. Other dates TBC. 
 

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