Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Movie Review: ENEMY

Welcome back to this mini-series of reviews of the feature films* of revered filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in the lead-up to his latest film Arrival. This fifth review in the series is for his 2014 film Enemy.

Enemy is the sixth film by director Denis Villeneuve and can only be described as very surreal and confusing. This is a tense psychological thriller that is very much in the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock but much more surrealist in line with the arthouse films of today. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal in two doppelgänger roles, as well as Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini. In general, I think this is a strong film but it is really unclear and is one that is worth sitting down with and thinking about.

In terms of positives, there are two principal ones: the effective building of tension and intrigue and the expert performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. Villeneuve is really taking command of his directorial skills and style and this film shows him taking a chance and succeeding. The way he makes audience members interested in what is going on is largely through incredibly subtle moments and elements to the story. Trying to make a psychological drama is a challenge and I think the cleverness applied to this film really paid off in making a film people get invested in and want to come to an understanding of.

In addition to the work Villeneuve does behind the camera, Gyllenhaal carries the film strongly in front of the camera. He plays two doppelgänger characters who are incredibly similar in a lot of ways but have so many subtle differences in how they act and how they approach this strange world throughout. He uses different expressions and behavioral ticks with each character that allows you to largely follow which character is which even when it isn’t explicitly stated and isn’t otherwise obvious. This is an immensely difficult thing to do as an actor and he absolutely pulls it off.

There are two tangential positives I want to note in this film. First, the sound design is wonderful. It is subtle at times and then grows at other times and really helps get you into this mood of madness and insanity. Second, Villeneuve used surrealist elements well to enhance, rather than detract from, the film. This film uses spiders throughout this film in both real and highly surreal ways throughout the film and this use of a singular surreal motif with a level of frequency that made it purposeful. I have a problem with surrealism done for its own sake, but in this film it made sense and was consistent with what was going on in the film.

One real problem I had with this film was that, even though it was really interesting and I cared about figuring it out, I didn’t care about the situations of our characters. Whatever good or bad might have been happening to either of the doppelgängers or the women they are close to didn’t matter to me. I had no investment in their lives and I found myself laser focused on analyzing this as an art piece rather than enjoying a story. I think this is a fine thing for a film to do but I can’t fully credit a film if that’s all I get out of it.

Overall, I think Enemy is a very strong film, particularly as a piece of art for analysis. There is a lot to discuss in this film and it is largely interesting discussion. It is in no way straightforward, and in no way for everyone, but it is interesting especially if you are heavily into film and analyzing filmmaking decisions. I found myself more interested in studying what was going on that the story itself but Enemy is still very much worth checking out if you’re into cinema.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

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* This series of reviews will include all of Villeneuve’s features except the 2000 film Malestrom due to it being highly difficult to obtain prior to the start of this series.

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