Canada has gifted the world with some serious talent behind the camera, with the likes of James Cameron (Avatar), David Cronenberg (The Fly), Vincenzo Natali (Cube), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) and Bruce MacDonald (Hardcore Logo), among others, having all contributed worthwhile works to the gallery of world cinema. One of the newer members of this fraternity is director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) and it cannot be denied that his ‘star’ is currently experiencing something of a meteoric rise in prominence. With every subsequent release, his stock continues to soar. The latest on the horizon for this supremely talented French-Canadian is the highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction epic Dune, first brought to the Big Screen in 1984 by notorious director David Lynch (Lost Highway); a name that will turn up several times in this review. Recently, the impressive first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune dropped and it occurred to me that there were films in his growing filmography that I still had to catch up with.
I first encountered his name when his debut film Incendies hit screens back in 2010; a critically acclaimed flick which I still have yet to see (though I may now seek it out). After that, he had a one-two punch in 2013 with Prisoners (another on the Must See list) and THIS film. It seemed like it was time to get to both of these titles and see how they ranked with the other films of his that I’ve already seen and enjoyed, those being Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). After being unable to locate a streaming copy of Prisoners, I came across Enemy on Amazon Prime.
SO, at 7am on a smokey (goddamn wild fires!) Sunday morning, while my beautiful Other Half slumbered away with the dog girls, I brewed up some coffee and dove into Enemy, almost completely in the dark about where the story may go.
Enemy takes place in Mississauga, ON and there we meet a young history professor named ‘Adam’ (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems to have fallen into a rut. The mundane routines of his life – teach the same lessons over and over, come home to a sparse, unoccupied home, have the same sex with the same ‘distant’ girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and repeat. There is no excitement or drive in his life anymore and he seems largely unfulfilled and directionless. One day, after taking the suggestion of a colleague, ‘Adam’ seeks out a local film on DVD, opting to check out the flick instead of throwing another predictable shot into the girlfriend one night. It’s in the background of one scene that he notices something odd…and that something is an actor, named ‘Anthony’, who appears to be an exact duplicate of himself. For reasons left unclear, he decides to search this low-level actor out, and once he does…things go off the rails, both for ‘Adam’ and for us, the audience.
Before I get into my scribbles about Enemy, I’ll just preface my notes by saying that this film will NOT be everyone’s cup of tea. Should you be a fan of the avant garde works from esoteric directors like David Lynch, then Enemy may work for you. But if you want something a bit more accessible and digestible, then this title in all likelihood, MAY not be for you.
But anyway, here lie my scribbled notes!
–Again, with the tiny text. This seems to be a signature of Villeneuve’s, the use of almost maddeningly small text (Blade Runner 2049 is so far the biggest offender) onscreen. Luckily, there wasn’t much. It’s a stylistic choice I have a hard time accepting, because it doesn’t make much sense.
–I see Villeneuve’s fingerprint right away. Establishing shots. Right from the get-go, the long, hazy shots of the cityscape felt like they carried the grandeur of shots that would come, to great effect, later in his career. They felt both expansive and bleak.
–Getting Requiem vibes. Requiem for a Dream (2000) is one of the most beautifully ugly and haunting films I’ve EVER seen, one that I may never see again, despite the work of art that it truly is. There’s an unsettingly surreal quality to writer / director Darren Aronofsky’s art-house epic (no shit!), mixed effectively into the gritty, grimy aesthetic that surrounds the main characters. Enemy carries a similar feel, often punctuated by scenes of silence or the deliberate absence of score.
–Strong Fincher feel. Colour palette of yellows and browns. If I ever had to readily compare Denis Villeneuve’s style to one of his contemporaries, it would have to be David Fincher (Se7en). Fincher has mastered the art of the precise composition and camera movement, frequently colour-graded in distinct yellows, grays and browns that I find hold a very ‘cinematic’ flavour and edited with surgical care and instinct. Villeneuve shares that style, much like how brothers Ridley and Tony Scott had a comparable ‘look’ in their individual offerings.
–Good use of ‘quiet’, so far. As previously touched on, there are many scenes where Villeneuve chooses omit any hint of music, just letting the small, ambient sounds in the often-quiet sequences lend atmosphere. Also punctuated the tension well, which is what the narrative rides on.
–Ok, doppleganger action. Oh, I should maybe let you know that you WILL have answers about what’s going on…and not all of them will get answered in the 1 hour 35 minute run-time. True story. If you need some kind of comparison, Lynch’s terrific-yet-still-baffling Lost Highway (1997) leaps to mind. Feels like a gorgeous, intriguing puzzle that’s had key pieces removed, leaving it up to the audience to fill in with their imaginations to complete the image. Not everyone’s into that. Just saying.
–Canadian! Yes, in case you haven’t figured it out – I hail from the Great White North of Canada…and I fucking love it! Canada is a straight-up awesome country that I believe other nations could learn a thing or two from. One area that we admittedly haven’t really excelled is carving out a specific Canadian identity on the Big Screens, one that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with US, British or even Australian films using Canadian content that actually takes place in Canada, that the whole movie-going world might enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve put some cool little movies out there that take place in Canadian cities or communities, but nothing memorable boasting an A-grade American talent like Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead), maybe since Cronenberg set up James Woods in Toronto in 1983’s totally fucked-up Videodrome. I’m half kidding, as I’m sure I’ve probably missed some notable titles that have come out along the way, but when I ponder it, Cronenberg is really the only one, at least back in the day, who bothered to have Canadian cities actually play themselves as opposed to standing in for any and every city in the US (looking at YOU, Vancouver!). This one starts off and I honestly expected that we would never actually get the name of the city, similar to the anonymous urban backdrop in Se7en (1995), where that anonymity takes on its own character. But then we get a close up of some mail…and bang!…Mississauga, Ontario, CANADA. Villeneuve representing, yo! It was nice to see.
–Gorgeous city shots. The narrative is often intercut with long, aerial shots of the city and they look great. I can see where the seeds of what would become the amazing Los Angeles / Las Vegas sequences in Blade Runner 2049 were planted.
–Something ‘Machinist’-like about the tone. Another film this could be compared to, atmospherically, is Brad Anderson’s psychological thriller from 2004, The Machinist, a film that I love for its weird, dream-like tone. There’s something similar to Enemy.
–What the hell is she so upset about? ‘Anthony”s pregnant wife ‘Helen’ (Sarah Gadon) quickly and inexplicably gets all bent out of shape when the two men start communicating, pretty much sprinting straight to stalking ‘Adam’ herself, with very little build-up. A little weird, as character development goes.
–Music, when used, is eerie. Right there. That.
–Isabella Rosellini?! I was not expecting to see Ingrid Bergman’s daughter turn up in this film. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if she was still acting. I do find it funny, however, that this just fits right in with my comparison’s to David Lynch, as Rosellini featured memorably in his film Blue Velvet (1986).
–Taking ID theft to the next level. Why? There’s a sudden change in one character that I think could’ve been handled with a little more finesse. He decides to steal another’s identity, for the sake of revenge, for some reason that doesn’t seem warranted. Another odd choice in the writing of the characters.
–WTF?! Like I said, this movie is NOT for everyone. This may be *SPOILERS!*, but so be it. There is a not-so-subtle-but-not-clearly-defined symbolism involving spiders that pop up from time to time, right from the first scene. At one point we get this admittedly eerie shot of a massive, towering spider slowly striding through the city and then CUT…no explanation or reference. Anyway, in the final scene of the movie, ‘Adam’ has found himself in a position where he can slide into ‘Anthony’s life. As he enters a bedroom we just saw ‘Helen’ go into in the background, he’s abruptly confronted by a monstrously-sized arachnid, which freezes him dead in his tracks. As he stares past us at the terrifying monster…hard cut to Credits! Like I said…what the fuck?!! I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer…but I’m also not a straight-up moron. I DON’T GET IT!!
And that’s where my scribbles end.
All in all, there were definitely aspects of this film that I respect and enjoyed but I’m not sure it comes together for me as a title I can definitely recommend. Rest assured, Villeneuve has directed better, but his talents are definitely on display here as well. This isn’t a terrible film by any stretch…it’s just a little too weird-for-the-sake-of-weird for its own good. The acting, especially by Gyllenhaal in dual roles, was solid and fitting for the tone of the story. The cinematography was slick and gorgeous and the overall scope was strangely small and intimate, aided a sparingly used creepy score. I’m glad I watched it but I’m not sure it’s one that I would ever feel the need to revisit.
If you’re a fan of odd, mind-bending cinema that often leaves much to your own imagination to decipher, again much like the work of David Lynch, then you may get something from Enemy. But if you’re just scoping out a flick you can turn your brain off to and use to vegetate for a couple hours, then you may want to give this title a pass. It really is a simple matter of taste.
*Enemy can be seen currently on Amazon Prime