I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!


tn_enemyENEMY is a weird, spooky thriller that director Denis Villaneuve and star Jake Gyllenhaal did right before PRISONERS. The arthouse freakout before the expensive studio drama that Lee Daniels got fired from. PRISONERS made me pay attention to the former and gain new respect for the latter, so here I am watching ENEMY.

Gyllenhaal plays a depressed college history professor who rents a movie one day and notices that the part of Bellhop #3 is played by a guy who looks exactly like him. Creepy. He does some detective work and tracks down the actor, who also has his same voice and an identical scar. He’s not sure what the fuck is going on, and he’s fascinated, but he’s weird about it. He calls and confuses the guy’s poor wife.

mp_enemyThe mood of this thing is as heavy as PRISONERS. There is no humor in it. They don’t even have a brief chuckle of disbelief about the weird situation they’re in. They’re curious, but too creeped out or bull-headed to sit down and figure it out together. Instead they tell each other off and investigate from a distance. He starts stalking the guy’s wife. Or the guy starts stalking his girlfriend. Or he’s stalking his own wife. To be honest I couldn’t keep track.

It’s kind of like a dead serious version of the part in SCHIZOPOLIS where Steven Soderbergh follows himself home and says “Oh my god. I’m having an affair with my wife!” And you really don’t know if you should be more scared for this guy or of him.

I think I was left more behind than you’re supposed to be, but it’s intentionally difficult to follow. They don’t have any visual cues to tell the lookalikes apart, they don’t have one guy that wears an eyepatch or pink spandex. In fact they kinda taunt us about it by having one of them contemplate shaving his beard off but then not go through with it. (Another good move would be if he shaves it off but then the other one also shaves his off.)

I wasn’t always sure if scenes were in order – are we cutting from one Gyllenhaal to the other one, or is he remembering something that happened before?

Some events repeat. A lecture he gives about dictatorship repeats pretty much back to back like we’re watching Teletubbies. Or as if we are supposed to be drawing parallels between what he’s talking about and the subtext of the movie. Hmm. Maybe I was too distracted trying to decode that, because it wasn’t until near the end that I understood that the creepy opening at a sex show wasn’t a dream, and it wasn’t until reading about it afterwards that I found out it was supposed to be the actor in that scene, not the teacher. And I’m still not sure if that was a storytelling trick or if I was supposed to know what was going on and I blew it.

Also I cannot tell you what to make of the bizarre ending. It’s kinda terrifying and kinda laughable. Beats me if it means something.

But I also believe that you don’t have to really understand an experience to enjoy it. I don’t have to know exactly what is going on in this movie to approve of it, and I don’t have to assume that because I didn’t get it that there’s nothing to get and it’s just pretentious bullshit. Maybe I don’t love the movie but I appreciate the uncomfortable feeling it gave me. It’s pretty good.

I remember one of my Canadian readers got mad at me one time for using “filmed in Canada” as a synonym for “cheesy.” So let me give credit where it’s due, this Canadian production shows Ontario looking every bit as foreboding and cinematic as New York ever has on film. It’s kind of a noir look – overcast, deep shadows, with ominous Kubrickian panning. This guy does a whole lot of his storytelling just with lights and camera equipment. Way to go Villaneuve and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc. That’s what I’m talking aboot.

I think this is a bit of a Cronenberg homage. Grim, sad, angry Canadian professionals in ties stumbling upon creepy, fetishistic underground subcultures that seem dangerous just to know about. The nightmare logic and atmosphere also reminded me of LOST HIGHWAY and MULLHOLLAND DR. I also thought a bit about EYES WIDE SHUT in some of the best moments, when this curious schmuck is awkwardly faking his way into places he doesn’t belong.

As good as Gyllenhaal is and as much as I hope these two continue to be a team, don’t you think this one would be even better as a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie? He loves to play twins or clones and he already is a movie star and it would be cool to see him giving a college lecture. We could assume the Belgium accent was a French Canadian type deal and I’m sure he’d be filming something else in Canada at the time anyway so it would be easier to get him there. And best of all, they would definitely keep the same title! I’m surprised there isn’t already a Van Damme movie called ENEMY.

Nice try Villaneuve but you fuckin blew it not getting JCVD in there. Otherwise pretty good work thanks Canada.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 at 2:09 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Enemy”

  1. Kinda holding off on this one since I found out it was based on a Jose Saramago books (I think called THE DOUBLE). He’s one of my favorite authors and I’d rather read the book first.

  2. I stopped reading this part way through. It contains, not so much spoilers, but plot details I’d rather not know about before seeing it. I adored PRISONERS. I bought the Blu ray because I wanted to look at the harsh, beautiful and smart cinematography over again and enjoy the powerful performances from everyone involved. Just a powerhouse film. I showed it to a number of people that also enjoyed it. I found myself wishing the kidnapping conspiracies had wider occult implications similar to TRUE DETECTIVE but that’s a minor quibble. A riveting exercise in despair and frustration. I have no doubt I will enjoy ENEMY just as much. I did not realize it was produced before PRISONERS. That’s interesting.

  3. Wikipedia has a plot summary that explains the original ending which makes a lot more sense than the movie version.

  4. Dikembe Mutombo

    August 6th, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I was crazy about ENEMY. One of my favorites of the year. Super creepy and tense and just something that unnerved me in a primal way, much like UNDER THE SKIN. My favorite thing about the ending: Jake’s sigh.

    And yeah it’s funny how many movies have been made in Toronto yet this has such a unique look. It’s a great looking movie with some evocative settings… the university, the apartment buildings, the motel… Villaneuve shoots the city like it’s an abandoned outpost on an alien world.

  5. I’ve never heard of Jose Saramango before, but I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that his “The Double” and “Enemy” were both based on Dostoevsky’s “The Double”. Wikipedia has a page on that one, too.

  6. That one was originally on my watchlist, but then someone told me that it is apparently seriously spider-heavy, so I decided to not watch it.

  7. Definitely stay clear if you’re arachnophobic.

  8. One Guy from Andromeda

    August 7th, 2014 at 2:11 am

    I was really into it until close to the end when it transpires that it is one of those movies that set up an outlandish situation, make it seem like it will lead to something and then not resolve it (the high-concept art-house move). Great atmosphere, but a bit unsatisfying in the end. It’s hard to be David Lynch.

  9. The Original... Paul

    August 7th, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Another interesting-sounding film that’s not coming to a cinema anywhere near me.

    I give up.

  10. Believe me, my arachnophobia got worse and worse over the last decade. When it came out, I was even able to watch movies like EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, but meanwhile I even cringe at the sight of cartoon spiders! And from what I’ve heard, ENEMY will totally fuck me up.

  11. Strange how these fears gets worse with age. My high anxiety was barely noticable when I was young, and you would think that the older you get the more you would realize how irrational it is. But that’s a big fat “no”.

  12. Hey Vern,
    Long time reader, first time commenting…
    I too enjoyed the hell out of Enemy, specifically for its deliberate pace and weirdness. However, I had heard a couple conflicting theories about what it all means before watching it, and by the time I got to the end, none of them seemed to fit. It really just seemed like the director decided he was going to make a very serious, enthralling movie, and then in the last minute, just pull the rug out and throw in the most insane, out of nowhere ending he could think of. It sure hasn’t been done before.

    However, there really is more to it than that. I found myself thinking about the movie a lot afterwards, so I dug around some more possible theories and stumbled on this video on youtube, explaining the film. It’s not from the director’s own mouth or anything, but it’s a damn good interpretation of the movie, which I can’t argue with. Give it a watch, and I think you’ll develop a whole new appreciation for the movie. It truly is a movie that you think is about one thing, when in fact it’s about a whole different thing altogether.

    Check out the video here: http://youtu.be/v9AWkqRwd1I

  13. I really loved this movie. I was getting a Cronenberg vibe from it, but also De Palma. The style was intense. I have no idea what it means, though. I read someone’s theory online about how its actually a body snatchers movie, Invasion of the Spider People, I guess. I don’t know if I totally buy that idea, but then again, I’m not really sure what it means otherwise. My girlfriend thought it was all about fearing women on first reaction, but then after we talked about it all night, we both came to the conclusion that its possible for it to mean a million things, and either way, for a movie that has no easy answers, it was played very well and I’d like to see it again. I’ve been recommending it to most people who ask me about anything that’s new and good, and am very pleased to see you’ve reviewed it and enjoyed it as well. But that body snatchers idea, do you think there’s any validity in that? Seems too literal, so my brain is going against it, but then maybe………………


    From what I’ve seen online (especially in the video above) it’s about one man who is terrified of commitment. He’s got a pregnant wife, and the idea of being trapped by the approaching child is pressing down on him. He feels trapped (like a fly in a web), and he equates powerful women with Spiders.
    This explanation requires you to agree that a lot of the movie is psychological, and exists in the main character’s head, and that both Jake’s are the same person. (his mother tells the Professor Jake to give up his “acting dream,” and also mentions that he’s had infidelities in the past. No one else seems to buy that there are two Jakes, and no one else ever sees them both at the same time. There are a lot more details that elaborate on the idea that they are the same person, but the video explains it better than I can.

    As for the spiders… at the beginning, Jake is seen entering a private sex club with a special key. Inside, a woman crushes a giant spider as Jake watches. Visiting these clubs and having his affairs allows Jake to get away from the powerful women (his wife, his mother). Then, at the end, after his double, or “Enemy” persona “dies” in the car crash, he feels like he has overcome his infidelity habits and is finally ready to settle down with his wife. He asks her what she wants to do tonight, then upon finding the new key to the sex club, he changes his mind, telling her he might have to go out by himself, already falling into his old habits. He walks in on his wife and BOOM- giant fucking spider- The stakes are higher now. Not something that can simply be crushed under a high heeled shoe. Jake realizes this, giving out a sigh of unhappy acceptance. He’s stuck in his position. And as he said numerous times in lectures, history is bound to repeat.

  15. Republican Cloth Coat: Well, although they both deal with weird doubles, it otherwise doesn’t sound like the stories are very similar. The original Portuguese title for Saramago’s “The Double” apparently more closely translates to “The Duplicated Man,” so it’s not like the title is a direct reference.

  16. Well, if we’re just talking creepy dopplegangers, you can even take it further back to Poe’s “William Wilson.”

    I absolutely adored this movie. Perfect blend of nightmarish tone and atmosphere with just enough framework that you could go crazy trying to figure it out.

    Best part, though, is his expression in the last shot. So rich, but so mysterious. Shock, exhaustion, resignation, but maybe also the slightest hint of a wry smile?

    The “making of” video seems to suggest that it’s sort of a metaphor for a guy afraid to commit to a relationship, which is honestly probably the dullest possible interpretation. I prefer to think its a little more interesting than that, maybe something to do with an alien human/spider hybrid invasion or something. Everything is exactly concrete enough that you have puzzle pieces to play with, yet ambiguous enough that you can arrange them in many different ways.

  17. ENEMY makes for a really good art house double bill with THE DOUBLE. I definitely enjoyed both movies and their different takes on similar themes. Also shows the surprising pliability of 19th century Russian lit.

    And that feeling of not knowing exactly what’s going on but still knowing that you are watching something great? I got that with both PRIMER and UPSTREAM COLOR on initial viewings of each, which made for great re-watches. And re-re-watches. And so on.

  18. Vern, I believe he repeats the lecture because he’s teaching multiple sections of the class. It reminded me of Election when he’s giving the same lecture about the 3 branches of government over and over.

    “No one else seems to buy that there are two Jakes, and no one else ever sees them both at the same time.”
    What about the whole sequence where the pregnant wife seeks out the teacher at school? The scene plays from her perspective and is very difficult to explain in terms of the “there’s only one Jake” theory.

  19. renfield,

    On first view, I assumed she was taken aback by seeing a man that looked just like her husband, and didn’t know quite how to act, mainly because that’s how the movie had been leading us to believe. However, on second viewing, you could make the argument that she’s so speechless and puzzled because she can’t believe her HUSBAND is treating her like a stranger. She’s kind of playing along with him, looking to see if he’ll crack, and he never does. Of course, the wife has a lot of ambiguous reactions throughout the movie, so I think you can make the argument for both. However, I’m sure it was intentional that when History Professor Jake left, she called Actor Jake, and he answered his phone just as History Professor Jake was out of eyesight.

    It seems like the wife knows there is something seriously wrong with her husband, but she is trying to approach it as cautiously as possible. If your significant other started exhibiting strange signs on mental illness, I think the normal reaction would be to try to work with them and help them overcome it, not just call them out on it and attack them.

  20. I liked this one but I made the mistake of watching it right after UNDER THE SKIN which is still kind of haunting me. All I can think of is David Lee Roth’s quote about how his ambition with Van Halen was to have the records so hot it would melt everything else in your vinyl collection. It’s a silly equation but I don’t think I’ve had such a reaction to a film since DRIVE.

    But, I liked this. Jake is fascinating and close enough to an every-man to walk through a 90 minute or more story that he’s in almost every scene in. My interpretation is that they are twins and the the mother gave Actor Jake away for reasons that could threaten the relatonship. I’m not really sure what the spiders represent, the female connection is interesting but if that’s all it extends too it is a bit disappointing.

  21. Tbh I liked this more than UNDER THE SKIN because it’s played more for tension.

  22. Have you seen SICARIO yet, Vern? Pure 100% bad-ass cinema.

  23. I second the motion. The cast is uniformly excellent, Denis Villeneuve is at the top of his game, and there are a few choice moments that are remarkably tense. Can’t wait to see it again, but I need to man up and see PRISONERS first. I’ve only seen part of it on DVD (the final 15-20 minutes), and it gave me the willies something awful.

  24. The Original Paul

    October 11th, 2015 at 6:40 am

    After seeing an early showing of SICARIO this morning, I third the motion. It’s better than PRISONERS, and I liked PRISONERS.

  25. Cool. I’m seeing it tonight after work.

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