I’ve been thinking about this for a while now; I can honestly say with no qualms whatsoever that Denis Villeneuve’s tense, claustrophobic and experimental feature Enemy is my favourite film of the year thus far. While it would be disingenuous to say Enemy is a flawless film, it has been ages since I’ve seen someone so bravely and effectively toy with narrative convention and throw the rules of mainstream filmmaking out the window so brazenly and still manage to come out with something that reasonably resembles a slice of traditional, digestible cinema. The film is ambiguous and open to numerous interpretations (you’ll find heaps online after the film ends, and Enemy will even motivate you to go looking for them), yet somehow it nearly perfectly manages to embed these numerous emergent narratives in a straight-forward and linear setting. Villeneuve shot Enemy and Prisoners back to back in 2012, and both are vastly different films – the level of acclaim that the two have been receiving alone cements Villeneuve as one to watch in the coming years, to say nothing of his breakthrough Incendies. This review won’t reveal any of the key spoilers of the film (though if you want to avoid plot details altogether you can skip down a few paragraphs where I’ll discuss the presentation of Madman’s Blu-Ray release), but if this is a film you’ve been looking forward to seeing, stop reading now and just go and check it out. I can’t guarantee it will be for everyone but this is the sort of film you won’t want spoiled, regardless of whether you love or hate it.
Based on José Saramago’s novel The Double, and with a set-up loosely resembling that of Dostoyevsky’s novella of the same name, on a surface level Enemy follows Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a melancholic and directionless college teacher who, by coincidence, observes his exact double in a low budget film and immediately becomes intrigued and obsessed by his existence. Adam tracks down the man in the film (also played by Gyllenhaal), their lives begin to cross over, and a whole bunch of crazy begins to engulf their lives.
Enemy has you searching for greater meaning and clear answers from the get go, refusing to hold your hand and provide you with definitive closure after its modest 90-or-so minute runtime has elapsed. It’s the sort of film that has you hitting forums and film websites trying to make sense of it all right after you’ve seen it, but unlike other films of this ilk (Shane Carruth’s Primer, for example) it is constructed far more elegantly; you feel as though the film’s meaning is within your grasp and could be unlocked at any moment. This is because the film is so tightly constructed and condensed that even though every moment seems important, you never feel that anything major has been left off the screen.
The film’s greatest strength is in its relentlessly oppressive tone – Villeneuve has masterfully fine-tuned numerous aspects of the filmmaking process to convey a consistently claustrophobic and unnervingly warped vision of the world, strengthened by two brilliant and near faultless performances from Jake Gyllenhaal. The slick and totally stable cinematography, use of ultra-contemporary locations, and very green and nicotine stained colour grading evoke a world not to dissimilar from our own but somehow futuristic, despite the absence of cultural or technological progression in his modern Toronto. Villeneuve revisits a creepy web and spider motif that he hides and embeds in nearly every scene (it’s worth noting this motif was absent from Saramago’s novel, but can be found throughout the rest of his body of work, and is quite clearly of major significance to Villeneuve’s interpretation of the source material). The real standout of the film however is the skin-crawlingly unnerving score and sound design from regular collaborators Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (whose most notable previous work was in Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene); it takes what could have been fairly mundane moments and tints them with a tenseness and claustrophobia unmatched by most modern horror films, and takes already great scenes and turns them into a brilliant tangle of anxiety and dismay.
A few other reviews I’ve seen accuse Enemy of plot holes and inconsistencies. While it would be wrong to say that no problems arise from reading Enemy on face value, I don’t think a base-level reading of the film was Villeneuve’s intention, and I think it’s fair to dismiss accusations of plot inconsistencies if they’re raised solely because certain sequences do not fit an individual’s interpretation of the film’s underlying meaning. Feasting upon a steady diet of independent and B-Horror movies, I am much more forgiving of plot inconsistencies if directors are attempting something new and different with the filmic medium. Enemy is a distinct example of this type of filmmaking, and an even more prime example of doing it effectively. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus got a free pass from numerous reviewers who noted that Scott often edits for pacing and tone rather than continuity; I don’t understand why such a conventional film should be afforded such privileges while the same rules are not applied to other directors who make much more abstract work, who aim to push the boundaries of modern filmmaking further and more often. In the case of Enemy this affordance should especially be granted considering the push towards emergent narrative, and the very distinct original tone and feel that has been masterfully constructed during the post-production process.
I’m personally not a huge fan of the main release’s box-art for the film, which I feel fails give a clear indication of what the consumer is getting into and sells the film largely on the appearance of Gyllenhaal – although I do acknowledge that a film like Enemy is a hard sell to the average consumer and Gyllenhaal is one of its major assets (and one of the main reasons I checked it out in the first place). Personally, I’d recommend picking up the JB Hi-Fi Exclusive release with its alternative and more tonally suitable cover art, although I wish the original poster made it on a sleeve somewhere (one can dream…). I also object to the notion that the film is an “erotic thriller”, or “sexy” as stated in a review quote and on the box synopsis as virtually all of the sex related content in the film is tied to acts of violence. An argument could, however, be made that Villeneuve indulges in the BDSM aesthetic throughout the film, particularly with one incarnation of Gyllenhaal being largely identifiable through their infatuation with leather. Personally, I would have accentuated the films spine-tingling and tense tone although it’s likely the sex angle will sell more copies.
While it’s a little lacking in the special feature department – we’re given a few short interviews in which cast and crew discuss what they think the meaning of the film is (fun, but nothing particularly mind-blowing), and an actually pretty decent theatrical trailer – Madman’s transfer is fantastic; it lushly presents the claustrophobic hues without any noticeable visual artefacts, perfectly complimenting the amazing cinematography and oppressive colour grading. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also vibrant and clean, leaving little need for a reissue (unless a commentary track or something similar is mustered up in the future).
Overall, I urge you to go and check Enemy out. If you were on the fence about buying Madman’s Blu-Ray pressing, I can personally vouch for its magnificent visual and audio quality. The film will not be for everyone, but it’s a challenging and mentally draining journey worth travelling – it may not be a perfect film but I love it just the way it is, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
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