Best thing you’ll see all week: Enemy

, | Movie reviews

I once held a tarantula. A friend of mine worked for an exotic animal company. He would load up his car with tupperware containers poked with airholes. Inside were snakes, skinks, hissing cockroaches, and spiders. He would bring them to children’s birthday parties and show them to the children. One day he dropped by my house on the way to returning the animals from a birthday party. He put the hissing cockroach on his nose. He showed us the snakes. The skinks sulked in their tupperware, not doing much of anything.

“Do you want to hold a tarantula?” he asked.

No. Of course not. No. Absolutely not. “Maybe?”

He took it out of the tupperware and held it cupped in his hand. It looked like it was thinking terrible spider things. It very slowly moved one leg and then another.

“Okay,” I said, my courage buoyed by the fact that he was holding it and not freaking out, “here’s the deal. I’m going to hold out my hand and look away. You put it on my hand, but get ready to take it off if I ask you. Okay?”


He put it on my hand. I could barely feel it. It was eight almost imperceptible points of lightly furred contact with my palm, my wrist. One of the points delicately moved up and then down, then another. It was moving. A tarantula, barely heavier than the air, was moving on my arm. I didn’t turn my head to look at it. The feeling was quite enough.

Enemy is as unsettlingly effective as those imperceptible points of contact with the legs of a spider. It is subtle, insidious, creepy, working at a level deeper than what you’re seeing. It creates something sickly in the pit of my stomach. When it ended, I immediately watched it a second time because that’s the kind of movie it is. It is one of the most mind-blowing movies about one man’s relationship to women since Fellini’s 8 1/2. Enemy is also a welcome reminder of Jake Gyllenhaal’s range and depth as an actor. It wouldn’t work if long shots of Jake Gyllenhaal acting didn’t work.

Enemy is adapted from a novel called The Double by Jose Saramago, a Portuguese author I know from his novel Blindness (also adapted into a movie that’s haunting for very different reasons). Saramago’s absurdist story provides a foundation for Enemy, but Canadian director Denis Villeneuve films something that owes more to David Lynch and David Cronenberg, more existential than absurd. Villeneuve’s previous movie, Prisoners, was safely grim in that manipulative way of studio-approved movies about missing children that star Morgan Freeman. There’s nothing safe in Enemy, and nothing that an American studio would have approved, and it’s not merely grim, and there’s no villain or avuncular presence or a-ha twist. This is languid arthouse weirdness that sometimes resembles a horror movie with its discreet use of CG. It is a puzzle with a solution you might not like, or even care to solve, but the solution is in there. You just have to be willing to hold it in your hand and look at it.

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