A very grey scaled bleak thriller that focuses well on the nervous and tense existential crisis of the main character. It also soars to interesting heights thanks to impressive sound mixing/editing and lighting that makes the whole film look like an amalgamation of cold war thriller and film noir intrigue with Gilliam-esque dystopian fears influencing the appearance a lot.
It’s a stylish film that follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) as he goes through life awkwardly and unnoticed by everyone. He does well at his job and falls for a co-worker called Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), but then comes along his spitting image, geniusly named James Simon (also Eisenberg) who puts everyone under his magnetic spell and soon begins to set Simon James on a crash course of identity and revenge.
There’s just numerous finessed touches from director Richard Ayoade’s second movie. It’s apparent he’s crafting a film here with other works and directors influencing this film. It’s very unplaceable, it could be in the past or in the future, it’s surreal and dark but also funny and sweet at times. The shadowy world these people inhabit is cold and lonely and mirrors nicely the vulnerable unloved traits of Simon James. The transitions between scenes are glorious in places and sounds, lighting changes and looks between characters all link in to past moments in weird but wonderful ways. The time he looks at Hannah and photocopying glares become blue and reflect the pass image of her on the train is brilliant, simple but effective. Also the casting from his first feature, ‘Submarine’ returning for little roles throughout this story is a nice nod for people who have watched his coming of age debut film.
The lighting and sound really makes this film though. Sound by Andrew Hewitt generally more so, with shots of running water sounding nothing like it’s meant to or nicely timed tumbleweed effects to symbolise the awkward nature of Simon James. The funny but upsetting synchronizing of blaring music and whirring blenders ruining his chance to listen in on his double moving in on the girl he wants. The layered soundtrack of mixed up footsteps or other sound effects continuing as people stop or scenes increase in intensity is sublime and racks up the unnerving oppressed motifs of this film. The actual score itself is haunting and beautiful, the twinkling of piano sounds really hitting the spot as the ending rises to a crescendo. It’s in the sound mixing and editing that the film steps up a gear and makes it feel even more special than it did anyway.
Jesse Eisenberg plays the doppelgangers perfectly well, acting them at polar opposites to really set them apart and you sympathise with one while hating the other even when they look the same. It’s a engaging but strange story but he sells it well making you believe it’s not him both times. The performance of Wasikowska is of grace but no nonsense and her hard to read character is like a wall to Simon James, one that he believes is a front to counteract her loneliness too.
This is a very interesting piece on paranoia and stylish too, though it does seem to take a while to get going and can sometimes be too surreal for its own good…maybe. One that feels like Ayoade is trying to squeeze in forms and habits of other directors and films into his own work. The story does sometimes come across as taking a backseat to the clever utility belt of visually creative ideas from the director, though the plot comes into its delicious and psychological own by the credits.
I did like this film, quite a lot to be honest. There was something in its bitter horror of identity take over that moved me. It’s looks great in the most part and the sound is chilling and doubly effective.