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Enemy

Year: 2013
Production Co: Pathé International
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Javier Gullón
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rosselini

It's never clear what it's about, and the denouement is one of the biggest WTF moments in any mainstream movie ever (referencing as it does a single prior scene that looks like it was dropped in from a movie with a totally different tone and themes), but despite the age-old problem of setting up a grand mystery and not being interested enough in explaining or unravelling it for you, it's well enough made to keep you interested while you're there.

The broad premise is about a guy who meets another guy who looks exactly like him, but director Denis Villeneuve is very skillful at eliciting the emotional response in you that he wants. Even aside from the title there's such a sense of menace and danger building as mild-mannered university professor Adam (Jake Gylenhall) sets about meeting dynamic actor Anthony (also Jake Gylenhaal), it feels like a dark thriller.

It also feels a bit like rather than tell a story, Villeneuve simply wanted to use the medium to affect and challange your emotions. Under what other possible circumstances could meeting your physical doppleganger be so full of dread?

Going about his fairly humdrum life where he teaches at a Toronto University, goes home and has what seems like a muted, pallid love affair with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent), Adam is watching a movie when he sees an extra in the background that looks exactly like him.

He seems to be partly fascinated and partly appalled that the guy exists so he starts to track him down, seemingly in order to meet him but going about it in such a way that it feels like it's a psychotic stalker moving in on a dangerous serial killer.

As Anthony gets wind of the stranger calling his house and saying he wants to get together, he's going through his own strange crisis in life. His beautiful pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and he seem to have a successful relationship but Adam's perceived invasion of it drives a wedge between them.

The two men finally do meet in a low rent highway-side motel, and it only exacerbates their fear or and/or obsession with each other, leading down a rabbit hole of intrigue that's tinged with danger and ultimately disappears up its own... very strange place.

There's too much in it for the film not to be about something (there's a woman killing a spider under her heel in a very high class strip club, a giant spider approaching the city in one of the movie's most visually striking shots, Adam and Anthony having the same scar on their lower trunk, a mysterious photo in Adam's apartment of he and some unseen woman he can't explain), but it doesn't give you much of an idea what that is. Is it about time travel? Parallel universes? Psychosis? The novel the script is based on has something about totalitarian regimes, and Villeneuve talked about it exploring the subconscious and infidelity. In other words, like Darren Aronofsky's mother!, it's probably going to represent whatever you bring to it.

Either way Villeneuve is great at casting a mood over the proceedings through sound and image, the same skills that would serve him to awe-inspiring effect in Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. One of the visual standouts is a permanent yellow cast, suffusing Toronto in a sickly pallor that makes places which should be alive and inviting (a university where people are learning, apartment blocks where people go about their lives) feel like mistrust and fear is a disease blanketing everything.

It's ultimately unsatisfying if you want to know what's really going on, but it shows great skill in the directing. Also it seems to be federal law in Canada that any film set or shot there has to star Sarah Gadon, which is no bad thing.

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