Directed by Denis Villeneuve
A man swaggers down a dimly lit hallway and into a darker, larger room. Inside, a woman pleasures herself on a stage while another dances nude beside her. The woman is the only source of light in the room. A group of well-dressed men stare as if they were studying test subjects.
Thus begins Denis Villeneuve’s eerie new film “Enemy,” a movie that ultimately tells a simple story in an overly complex manner. The film follows Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a nervous, mild-mannered history professor who watches a movie and spots Anthony Claire (Gyllenhaal), an extra that looks exactly like him. Bell becomes obsessed by this coincidence to the point of tracking down Claire and setting up a meeting between them.
The film wears its influences on its sleeve. Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” are obvious reference points for the film. While those films are inventive, “Enemy” comes off as confusing and tries too hard to be the movies it admires so dearly, particularly in the conflicts that eventually arise between the two main characters.
Villeneuve and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc do a good job of matching the creepiness of those two films by bathing the screen in ominous, pale yellows. They favor long, uninterrupted shots, which build the tension in each successive scene. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ eerie score gets under the skin of the audience, causing unrest and fright even in the film’s calmer moments.
Unfortunately, whenever the plot gets engaging, it quickly diverts elsewhere. The most interesting moments of the film go unexplored and unexplained, making them feel like filler. There are well-executed scenes in a nightclub for sexual deviants and a recurring motif of spiders that engage and eventually disappoint the audience. Even more disappointing is the film’s abrupt ending, which is such a cop-out that the previous 90 minutes seem like an elaborate practical joke. Ultimately, the film creates interesting conflicts, only to never even attempt to provide the audience with a resolution.
There’s no denying that “Enemy” is a well-made film. The performances are subtle and impactful, the score is extremely effective, the lighting looks natural and many of the shots are impressively pulled off. But without any logic in the plot, it falls flat and may leave the audience feeling dissatisfied instead of entertained.