Monday, October 11, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Single White Female

Single White Female (1992)
Rated R (for violence, language, and sexuality)

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

Bridget Fonda
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Steven Weber
Stephen Tobolowsky

Single White Female is a thriller based on John Lutz's 1990 novel SWF Seeks Same. Allie Jones (Bridget Fonda) is a talented software designer who has just created a revolutionary fashion merchandising program. Allie is hip, beautiful, and lives in a gorgeous building in New York City. After finding out her loving fiance Sam (Steven Weber) cheated on her with his ex-wife, she breaks up with him and kicks him of their apartment. This presents a problem as she cannot afford her beautiful apartment alone. She auditions several roommates before settling on Hedy Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy, naive girl who admires Allie's sophisticated style. The two women bond quickly, helped along by Hedy's gift of an adorable puppy.

Hedy begins to be clingy and starts copying Allie's look and mannerisms, which Allie finds unsettling. The relationship sours further when Allie reconciles with Sam and the two discuss him moving back in, meaning that Hedy will have to move out as soon as she finds a new apartment. Allie quickly learns that her new roommate is a dangerous person intent on taking over her life . . . and her identity.

What makes this film work is that it preys on the superficial sense of self (especially for women) associated with a person's appearance and the way they dress. While these things don't truly represent who we are, they are the outer image presented to others. When someone else has a similar look, or especially when they actively copy our own, it feels weirdly like a violation. Single White Female is so scary because the audience watches as the seemingly innocuous Hedy slowly rips Allie's life apart stitch by stitch, seam by seam. Indeed, the most horrifying scene occurs in a hair salon when Hedy descends the stairs to show off her brand new haircut - a carbon copy of Allie's, right down to the color.

Leigh is excellent in the film. From the beginning, she seems like a lonely, self-deprecating and slightly frumpy young woman who is in awe of her glamorous roommate's life. As the movie progresses, her psychosis becomes more and more obvious. Leigh plays both sides of Hedy well, but she makes the audience truly believe in her craziness.

This is a movie that will make you think twice about you who let into your life, and especially your home. It's a good example of how the right filmmaker can make ordinary objects (a haircut, a pair of shoes, etc.) induce fear.

Fright Rating: 2 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

There are a few violent scenes, but the majority of scares come from the suspense-building moments where Hedy reveals her true self. Single White Female is a classic thriller, but is Rated R and not for children.

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