I can’t say I went into Enemy (2013) with boundless enthusiasm, given it presents like a cheesy “separated at birth” plot, but Denis Villeneuve is easily one of my favorite modern directors so I figured I should give him the benefit of the doubt. It was a good call: Enemy is a modest but compelling psychological thriller. Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Toronto-based history professor who is clearly in a rut, his life characterized by monotonous teaching and a joyless relationship with girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent). Adam is shaken out of his routine when he spies his exact doppelganger in a video rental, and investigates the actor: Anthony Claire (also Gyllenhaal). Intrigued, Adam inserts himself into Anthony’s life, which entangles him with Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and leads to unsettling discoveries about his twin – and himself.
Enemy’s core twists aren’t likely to surprise seasoned film buffs, but Villeneuve executes with such confidence and class that it doesn’t matter. He injects the Hitchcockian scenario with an eerie, unsettling Lynchian surreality, blurring the line between surface plot and metaphor. The result is a gripping character study that leverages its tiny cast and indie budget to exceptional effect, keeping the viewer just enough off-balance. Smartly, the film doesn’t over-explain and thereby demystify itself, elevating the film’s pulpy plot beats into something more resonant and thought-provoking. An intense, impressive film.