Movie Information

The Story: A man discovers he has an exact double and decides to meet him. The Lowdown: Claustrophobic, psychological horror is the order of the day with Enemy, a film that will appeal mostly to cineastes in search of the unusual and the unsettling.
Genre: Psychological Horror Thriller
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Joshua Peace
Rated: R

Chances are in the neighborhood of 100 percent that you won’t find anything stranger than Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy in theaters any time soon. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of taste. I saw the film with two other critics. One liked it more than I did, and one liked it a lot less. It is safe to say that none of us were indifferent to it or its “what the hell?” ending. Though just now released, Enemy appears to have been filmed before Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013). Both films star Jake Gyllenhaal, and the similarities pretty much end there. Unlike the rather clunky, overly serious Prisoners, in Enemy the primary objective appears to be messing with the viewer’s mind. I suppose some might liken it to a David Lynch film, but it feels more like a David Cronenberg head trip to me.Villeneuve has claimed that everything you need to know to understand the film is on the screen. Maybe. Maybe that’s true if you’re Denis Villeneuve, or maybe that’s true if you watch the film multiple times. As an outsider on a single viewing, I’m skeptical of the claim. When I first saw Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), I could only make marginal sense of it, but I loved it. On a second viewing, it seemed a lot more straightforward — and its appeal was diminished. That may be the case with Enemy.

The premise is that Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a fairly boring and bored history professor. He gives the same lectures over and over, resides in a personality-free apartment, maybe has sex with his girlfriend, Mary (Mélanie Laurent), and that’s about it. But one day a fellow teacher suggests a movie he thinks Adam might enjoy. (Whether or nor this is an innocent suggestion is unclear.) Adam watches the movie and sees a bit actor in it who looks exactly like him. A little research leads him to discover that this man, Anthony (also Gyllenhaal), is his exact double. When Anthony and Adam finally meet, it turns out that they even have identical scars. There are differences between the two men — not the least of which is that Anthony is rather the Mr. Hyde to Adam’s Dr. Jekyll. The question is: Are they really two different people? (According to Adam’s mother (Isabella Rosselini), they certainly aren’t separated twins.) Or are they different expressions of the same person? Up to a point, that second choice seems viable, but it doesn’t quite hold up over the course of the film.

Whenever you think you know — or might know — what’s going on, Enemy takes another turn that suggests you’re probably wrong. This is built into the film from the very onset with the posh but seriously creepy private sex club that Anthony belongs to — a place of unspoken depravity and spiders. The film is rife with spiders, giant spiders and spider imagery — the exact meaning of which may lie in the film’s abrupt final scene. Then again, it may not. The film is first and foremost a disconcerting meditation on the nature of identity in the oppressive, ugly world of the film (never has Toronto looked so unappealing). In the end, Enemy is more about how it feels than what it says. Is it creepy? Yes. Is it puzzling? Yes. Is it disturbing? Yes. Will it appeal to you? That’s a hard call, but it will have an appeal to those looking for something out of the ordinary. Rated R for some strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

Playing at Carolina Cinemas.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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8 thoughts on “Enemy

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    I saw the film with two other critics. One liked it more than I did


    I hold to my point that the number of filmmakers who make movies that look this good are few, so it

  2. Ken Hanke

    Assuming you’ve seen Grand Budapest, I’d agree with that advice.

  3. Ken Hanke

    And while I still don’t like it as much as you do, I do find it won’t go away. That’s generally a good thing.

  4. Edwin Arnaudin

    Assuming you’ve seen Grand Budapest, I’d agree with that advice.


    And while I still don’t like it as much as you do, I do find it won’t go away. That’s generally a good thing.

    Same here and with all these theories and Villeneuve saying all will make sense a second time, I may just see it again.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I remain unconvinced that it will all make sense on a second viewing unless you’re Villeneuve.

  6. William Chase

    I just came out of a screening and have been sitting in the parking lot of The Carolina for the past 15 minutes trying to make sense of the film. I strongly recommend seeing this with a companion because I saw it alone and am itching to discuss it with someone (that ending!). I feel like a second viewing is mandatory to figuring out what it all means.
    Ken, I would love to hear your theories on the ending and what the spider imagery means. Maybe with a spoiler warning beforehand because this is one film I think really benefitted my viewing by not knowing a thing about it, and avoiding any trailers and clips.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Well, it didn’t exactly tank, but it definitely underperformed and with three art titles, Grand Budapest still doing two print business, Noah justifying two prints for a second week, and two screens of Capt. America, this will be gone come Friday. Catch it while you can.

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