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Hitchcock Would’ve Admired Denis Villeneuve’s Creepy Puzzler ‘Enemy,’ Starring Jake Gyllenhaal

Hitchcock Would've Admired Denis Villeneuve's Creepy Puzzler 'Enemy,' Starring Jake Gyllenhaal

Cinema embraces psychosexually tortured doppelgangers. If Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” were remade and recast with Jake Gyllenhaal as a gloomy professor in place of Natalie Portman’s psycho ballerina, it might look something like Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy,” a nifty bit of murky fun rife with unsettling imagery and a sense of taut dread even Alfred Hitchcock would have admired.

In “Enemy,” a faithful adaptation of brilliant Portuguese writer Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel “The Double,” Gyllenhaal plays two versions of himself: Adam Bell, a university lecturer stagnating in a cycle of detached sex with girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent), and Anthony Clair, a middling bit part actor living a posh life alongside his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon). Adam first spots his doppelganger in a rented film his coworker casually recommends — immediately throwing him into a spiral of paranoia and obsession.

“Enemy,” which debuted at TIFF alongside “Prisoners,” marks Villeneuve’s most personal film to date, occupying the dark corners of the unconscious of a piece with Roman Polanski’s doppelganger creeper, “The Tenant” (1976). Tightly plotted by screenwriter Javier Gullon, and wasting not an ounce of the film’s curt 90-minute runtime, the film was improvised a great deal by the actors. Gyllenhaal effectively embodies two like-minded yet distinct personas, which DP Nicolas Bolduc coordinates seamlessly in sequences where both Adam and Anthony are present. Underneath all that five-o-clock shadow and dusty malaise, Gyllenhaal has rarely looked this sexy. And there are two of him!

A la Hitchcock’s best, chilly blondes and Freudian imagery abound, like the grotesque spider that, quite literally, looms over the beige, sickly landscape of the film. Isabella Rossellini delivers a nervy turn as Adam/Anthony’s domineering mother — though Villeneuve and Gullon don’t push the Oedipal underpinnings too far. 

Like the grand conceit of the film, the meaning of its potently disturbing final image is up to you: it could haunt your dreams, as it does Adam’s, or leave you scratching your head in disbelief. Either way, this pretentious but never overtly self-serious thriller delights in the interplay between the two Gyllenhaals, and the sinuous plot twists that hit like a car crash — horrifying to watch, but spellbinding nonetheless.

“Enemy” hits select theaters March 14 via A24 and is currently available on DirecTV

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