You know what the best film of 2014 is that you've never even heard of? ENEMY, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It's a psychological thriller that will stick in your brain for a long time. I'm still obsessing over it, and that's why I'm writing about it today.
ENEMY was unceremoniously released this past Tuesday on DVD, but it is deserving of much, much more. Certainly, it’s worthy of your 2-hour rental after it failed to garner a wide release. The latest from Denis Villeneuve, who directed the tense hit PRISONERS last year, played only at film festivals and briefly in New York this past March. That’s an utter shame, considering it is one of the best films of 2014.
Perhaps movies about the mind or those heavy with symbolism don’t stand a chance in this modern era that too often spoon feeds movie audiences. And ENEMY is a complex, layered film with a narrative chock full of fantasies, nightmares, and visions of gigantic spiders. It could almost be a horror movie.
|Jake Gyllenhaal does his greatest film work in two roles in ENEMY.|
And in many ways, it is just that, but it’s not a scary movie in the typical sense. There are no monolithic monsters or drooling beasts chasing down innocent victims here, despite the spider scenes. Instead, the monster is the male ego.
Gyllenhaal plays two roles here and in doing so, he’s done the best film work of his career. (He won’t be remembered come Oscar time, but he should be.) He plays a history professor named Adam, obsessing in his classroom over and over again about dictatorial regimes dominating society. He shambles around the campus, on edge, hands in his pockets, worrying about something. What is it that is eating at him so?
|'The two Jakes' play a scene together as Anthony intimidates his stalker Adam in ENEMY.|
Then one day he rents a movie to get out of his head, and discovers an actor in it who could be his twin. Is it indeed his doppelganger? Could it be a long lost brother? Adam becomes obsessed with this ‘twin’ and starts stalking him. He discovers that the actor, named Anthony, is quite different from him. He’s got a nice apartment, a warm, lovely and very pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon, in what should have been a star making role), and a swagger to his step that Adam sorely lacks. Adam works up the courage to meet him but when they confront each other at a local motel, Adam runs away.
It’s at this point in the movie that the true themes start to appear. Tense scenes with Adam’s mother (a stoic Isabella Rosselini), his lover (Melanie Laurent), and Anthony’s wife Helen suggest that the prof has a screw loose. Everything, including the city, seems to start closing in around him after that. And then the aforementioned spider visuals start popping up everywhere, along with haunting images of dangerous sex and dictatorships.
|Canadian actress Sarah Gadon plays Helen, a woman trying to make sense of her husband's obsessions.|
It’s all shot to be utterly frightening, and could give most horror movies a run for their money with the camera angles and editing often suggesting a fever dream or a nagging nightmare. Nicolas Bolduc is the cinematographer responsible for the incredible photographing of this film and he gives the locations of Toronto a muggy, claustrophobic feel like it’s never had before on film. The suspenseful score, written by Danny Bensi and Saunder Juriaans, keeps the dread going too with a throbbing sense of foreboding throughout.
And Javier Gullon’s taut script doesn’t waste a moment or line, and it’s a credit to him and director Villeneuve that they don’t feel the obligation to explain everything to the nth degree. This is a smart film that assumes the best in an audience. It merely asks you to pay attention to every moment, every action, and every image. Believe me when I tell you that wedding rings, phone calls, and repetition have seldom been used to better effect as harbingers of danger in a movie.
|One of the haunting 'spider' images from the movie ENEMY.|
Without giving away any spoilers here, I will tell you that there has been a ton of debate online over the film’s true meaning, and in particular, what the stunning last scene of the movie reveals. That startling end is actually quite obvious, but some reviewers have grossly misinterpreted it, like this misguided dissertation from Slate magazine (http://slate.me/1lSC25i).
The director said it best himself when he told IndieWire.com this: “In each scene, we are dealing on two levels, the narrative levels, which is like reality, and like a subconscious level where it’s like dealing with the part of the subconscious of the character.” (You can find the full interview here http://bit.ly/1yRWHMT.) But if you really need every bit explained, check out blogger Chris Stuckmann’s thorough and entertaining discourse on ENEMY on his page at YouTube (http://bit.ly/1pECF27).
This is a movie that might have been too intellectual for the Cineplex masses, but if you’re a horror buff or love to be nailed to the edge of your seat by a good thriller, you’ll really like this creepy film. It’s a frightening character study of a man who desires that which he doesn’t need, and is too foolish to embrace all that is staring him right in the face. Life haunts him, and I think this film will haunt you too.