Joseph Ruben’s Sleeping With The Enemy is horrendous. The story is unbearably stressful, the direction terribly eerie, the good guys too naive and the bad guys too creepy. Very rarely and only momentarily does the audience get to breathe and there’s never even a tiny bit of affection to be found. Julia Roberts’ clear face and genuine smile greatly contrasts the horror of her over-windowed house on the beach and her husband’s long black trench crow-like coat. In fact, Sleeping With The Enemy killed my dream of a house by the shore and decisively put me off tidy men once and for all.
The predictable premise is there, and so are the clichés. But there’s a reason why so many psychological thrillers insist in resorting to these overused formulas — because they’re followed by promised chills. An abused wife trapped in fear in her own house, alone and powerless, sleeping with her main antagonist, while classical music ironically intensifies her hell’s background. Mentally and physically worn out, she has learned to live in terror — and it’s not until she’s caught up in the middle of a stormy sea, in the darkness, unable to swim, desolate and with nowhere to go — that she can finally relax and think straight.
Indeed, things are constantly put under perspective in Joseph Ruben’s film. Once the audience has experienced being married to Patrick Bergin for half an hour, nothing feels threatening anymore. Nancy Price (author of novel Sleeping With The Enemy) and Ronald Bass (screenwriter) seem to know how to put together the perfect creep and certainly deliver a truly unforgettable character to whom Patrick Bergin gives flesh with disturbing skill. He’s unstable and ominous; silently lethal as well as erratic.
He’s what nightmares are made of and a lot of credit should be given to Sleeping With The Enemy for reinventing such an unoriginal character by adding several creepy twists onto him. He demands that the house is sparkly clean, the cupboards tightly neat and the bathroom towels perfectly folded. He likes big open spaces, dislikes furniture and carpets, wears his black heavy coat on the beach even when others go around in t-shirts. He only has sex when his favourite classical piece is playing full-blast and sports the strangest moustache. He might be the ultimate maniac.
All the way on the opposite side stands Julia Roberts’ persona, a stunning woman with the most adorable smile. She offers a haunting performance which admittedly often becomes depressing and distressing — not out of Roberts’ fault, but out of fault of the heavily traumatised character that she portrays. The audience lives in her fear and injustice for the film’s 100 minutes, and is eager to see her eventually getting the upper hand. When she does, she does so irrevocably — and nobody can judge her for it.
I once dated a guy who liked his kitchen cupboards neatly stacked. When my friend Lara and I visited his house one time, she happened to open one of his cupboards to get some coffee and that was when she stood still, frozen, terrified. I walked over and glimpsed at what she was looking at. “Have you seen Sleeping With The Enemy?” she asked — and the romance was over before it began.
Ruben’s Sleeping With The Enemy is very rarely violent in the narrow, physical sense of the word. And when it does get physically hostile, it almost feels like a fresh breeze compared to the emotional hell and psychological torture that Julia Roberts’ character and the film’s audience are put through the rest of the time. It’s menacing because it’s unpredictable and distressing due to its lack of trust. Its good characters suffer while its villain maintains all the power. He walks in and out of houses that he doesn’t own, hospitals and schools. There never seems to be a sanctuary; he’s everywhere, all the time — rearranging everyone’s kitchen cupboards and bathroom towels; putting his classical music on and making himself alarmingly at home.
Sleeping With The Enemy at IMDb
Sleeping With The Enemy at Wikipedia
Sleeping With The Enemy (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb