On the advice of a colleague, Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal), a disheveled Toronto lecturer, watches a movie and glimpses what appears to be his twin. An online search reveals him to be Anthony Claire (Gyllenhaal again), a struggling actor living in the suburbs. Shocked but oddly excited, Bell begins to shadow his doppelgänger from afar. And then they meet...
"Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered,” runs a title card at the start of Enemy. Based on José Saramago’s Nobel prize-winning novella The Double, you might never get to the bottom of Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal’s second collaboration following Prisoners (it actually shot first), but figuring it out is a riveting, thoughtful, thoroughly disturbing experience. This is brilliant, daring filmmaking that calls to mind the heyday of David Lynch and, post-Incendies and Prisoners, confirms Villeneuve as one of cinema’s most compelling new voices.
In outline, Enemy sounds like an extended Twilight Zone episode but the premise — lecturer Adam (Gyllenhaal) becomes obsessed with his dead spit, actor Anthony (also Gyllenhaal) — is played for more than spooky sci-fi weirdness. Instead it’s a slow inward interrogation into a split psyche, detailing mental turmoil, unconscious desires, predatory sexuality (Mélanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon play partners who get swapped) and the inability to feel intimacy with a dark, unflinching eye. It’s not all downbeat, though. The apartments are to die for.
If on paper the pair seem miles apart (Adam – Volvo and cords; Anthony — motorbikes and leathers), Gyllenhaal negotiates the differences in increments. These are two terrific performances, shifting between emotionally comatose and playful, that make you forget the special effects process but, more importantly, provide a grounding to anchor (but never explain) all the strangeness surrounding it. The Canadian milieu might call to mind early Cronenberg and you could lob any number of other touchstones at it (Kafka, Kubrick), but Enemy is its own thing. Villeneuve has incredible control of his palette, both visually (all cigarette-stain yellows and bruise browns) and aurally (LOUD scary music by Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi), subtly building an undertow of fear and dread. On top, we get the more overtly bizarre — diversions into underground sex clubs, unsettling images of giant spiders. Some films are about characters dealing with uncomfortable headspaces. Enemy puts you inside one.
The doppelgänger trope may sound well worn but Enemy finds fresh, deeply unnerving ground. And Jake Gyllenhaal gives two spellbinding performances.