In the new “erotic” psychodrama Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sullen Toronto history professor who makes a shocking discovery: Somewhere out there, perhaps even in the same city, is a man who looks exactly like him—a third-rate bit actor with the same features, the same physique, the same stylishly untrimmed facial hair. (His voice, too, is identical.) Who is this mysterious doppelgänger? Is he a long-lost twin? Or is there a more outlandish explanation for his uncanny resemblance? Justifiably obsessed, Gyllenhaal’s buttoned-up academic, Adam, begins tracking down his lookalike. But curiosity turns to regret when he finally comes face to indistinguishable face with Anthony (also Gyllenhaal, with a tweak in confidence), a philandering wannabe star who sees opportunity in their unlikely likeness.
Given its intriguing premise, pulled from the pages of a novel by Portuguese author José Saramago, Enemy could have gone in a number of different directions—black comedy, Hitchcockian suspense, even cloning-gone-wrong horror. Assumedly, any one of those hypothetical movies would have been more fun than this actual one, a dreary exercise in banal sexual fantasy. The film has been orchestrated by French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, who worked last year with Gyllenhaal on Prisoners. While that stylish kidnapping thriller essentially applied the director’s formal prowess to potboiler conventions, Enemy dives into material Villeneuve has described as “personal.” But it’s hard to see much more than platitudes in the metaphoric muddle of its plot. Adam and Anthony, whose first rendezvous tellingly occurs at a motel room, become mirrors of each other’s domestic discontent—the former growing apart from his steady squeeze (Mélanie Laurent), the latter sometimes two-timing his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon, from Cosmopolis). They’re both restless, which is about as deep as the psychology cuts. But Enemy treats their helixed life crises with a suffocating lack of humor, as though it were trying to put Shame to shame in its overwrought depiction of uncontrollable libido.
Villeneuve, a skilled craftsman given free rein to showboat, cranks the dread up to 11: His Toronto skyline becomes an alien kingdom, and every scene—ever single moment, really—is set to a menacing swell of horror-movie strings. (The music, by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, is oppressive but memorable.) If Prisoners was Villeneuve’s attempt at a David Fincher crime procedural, Enemy takes its cues from fellow Canuck David Cronenberg, down to its unnerving dream sequences and the periodic appearance of a highly symbolic spider. Try as it might, though, the movie is no dead ringer for Dead Ringers: Gyllenhaal’s dual role doesn’t reveal a Jeremy Irons-like range in the actor, whose two characters could easily be nicknamed Mopey and Dopey. Given that little of the story is meant to be taken on a strictly literal level, it’s forgivable that neither of the doubles act in a manner that resembles human behavior. But as a nightmare of suppressed desires, the film is tiresomely bombastic. It resembles nothing so much as a self-serious first novel, written by an author whose fancy wordplay can’t disguise that his insight runs the length of his manhood.