So far Denis Villeneuve has left me completely cold. I watched both Incendies and Prisoners and was far from charmed by their overly complex and far-fetched plot foolery. But Enemy looked different enough to give the man a third chance and I'm rather glad I did. While I don't think the film reaches its full potential, it's a definite step up from his two previous films.
Enemy is an adaptation of José Saramago's O Homem Duplicado, a book I haven't read yet (and probably never will), but which has its fair share of fans. Based on the synopsis I can say it has the perfect premise for a 90 minute mindfuck and Villeneuve exploits that rather well. The basic story is about a history teacher stumbling upon his perfect double. At least, all their external features match, emotionally they are two different people. The both of them are weirded out knowing there's another someone just like them running around in the same city and before long they're making each other's lives into a living hell.
The first hour Villeneuve does his best to keep the mystery alive. Through a strong, ambient-filled soundtrack, moody visuals, slow pacing and detached acting he creates a weird, otherworldly atmosphere that fuels the intrigue. Sadly he doesn't manage to keep the mystery alive and after the first hour the film becomes more down-to-earth and plot-driven. The final shot is a slap in the face and has the potential to turn everything upside down again, but it can't erase the 30 minutes that came before.
On the visual side of things, Villeneuve does his best but he can't hide the extensive sponsor support (including Canadian Telefilm money) that yields some less than perfect results compared to comfort of studio money. After a while the continuous use of the same old filter feels a little stale and the mediocre camera work starts to shine through. The cast is good, Gyllenhaal and Gadon clearly feel at ease with their characters, though I felt Gyllenhaal could've done more with his parts. Mélanie Laurent is the only one that feels out of place, luckily she has the smallest part of the three.
There's obviously a lot of symbolism and hidden layers to discover, the problem is that I like the film better as a mystery. Sure enough there are quite a few things left unexplained and the ending is a complete blank, but unearthing the real story feels like taking away from the core experience (I fear it will be like the underlying symbolism in Gravity making things worse instead of better). So while there's enough detective work to be done for people who are into that sort of thing, I feel fine not knowing all the explanations for the more obscure symbolism here.
Enemy feels like a short intermission between Villeneuve's more ambitious and prestigious projects, but at the same time I liked the film a lot more than his regular work. The first hour in particular is amazing, the final 30 minutes are a small let down but the closing scene is one that I'll fondly remember for years to come. An intriguing little film that deserved a little better in the direction department, but has everything for a nice evening of puzzling looks and unworldly atmosphere.