After her beau (Steven Weber) cheats on her, Allison (Bridget Fonda) advertises for a roommate to share her West Side apartment in an old, creaky, pretty ominous looking building. Seemingly normal Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) knocks on her door and the two take a liking to each other and are soon roomies.
However, Hedra doesn’t seem all that together and soon takes on an uncomfortable obsession towards Allison. Soon nefarious deeds begin unfolding, blood gets spilled and Allison is running for her life from her new roommate.
After the huge success of Fatal Attraction there was a slew of crazed, obsessed, murderous stalker movies that hit cinema screens throughout the following years all with varying degrees of success. Sleeping with the Enemy, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The Good Son, The Crush, Unlawful Entry, Daddy’s Girl, Misery, Pacific Heights, Mother’s Boys, Poison Ivy, Malicious, Cape Fear, Basic Instinct, The Paper Boy, and on and on and on….
You could have yourself a merry marathon of deadly psychopath thrillers that rose from Fatal Attraction’s wake during the late 80’s and early 90’s. It became it’s own thriller sub-genre. The deranged and unstable character who harasses and subsequently unleashes violence on their prey. The premise continues going strong today.
Single White Female fell along the middle of the road of these flicks. It was a modest hit and audiences seemed to be satisfied by it. It continues to be a popular title and one of the more famed ‘obsession movies. Rewatching this hurled me back to that 1990’s era. A time when answering machines and polaroid pictures were part of the landscape and having a ‘gay neighbor’ would be the norm. Movies really ran with that trope for a long time.
They managed to come up with a direct-to-video sequel in ’95 (with a completely different cast) and I had read that NBC was even attempting a reboot of it as a weekly television series. I have no idea how that would work. I guess the roomie will do disturbing things on a weekly basis? Or maybe she’ll be like a nomad roommate moving in with a new unsuspecting victim every episode.
The premise has clearly still got legs. I’ve read 2011’s The Roommate is practically a college set remake of Single White Female. By the looks of the trailer it looks essentially like a carbon copy.
Anyway, it looks like Allison and Hedra are about to begin a close friendship, until Fonda and Weber reconnect, get engaged and there’s no longer room for Hedra in the picture. This rebuff doesn’t go over very well. Hedra begins doing those stalkerish kind of things upending Allison’s life. She goes far beyond simply roomie annoying things than just simply borrowing her clothes.
She has a makeover done making her look like Allison, she kills their cute little dog, Allison’s best friend (the early beginnings of the clichéd best friend gay character) is attacked, she even imitates Allison in order to have a darkened late night tryst with Weber. This all leads up to Fonda trying to escape from Leigh in the darkened halls of that apartment building.
The building is a creepy, gothic-type of location and it does convey a tense mood. It’s an expansive, cold looking locale with its creaky vents, a sinister basement, broken elevator lifts. Add a crazed roomie to the mix and its not the kind of place you want to be in. It manages to convincingly play as this isolated setting that Allison is trapped in during the climax. This isn’t a typical New York building where there’s plenty of places to hide and go for help.
Director Barbet Schroeder builds the tension slowly and manages to create a few effective moments. I think general audiences who went to see this for some thrills obviously found it satisfying. It delivers exactly what you’re wanting to see from it. The story is by-the-numbers and all of Hedra’s dirty deeds don’t really yield any surprises. Although viewers might get an amused reaction from seeing someone be killed by a high heeled shoe.
Fonda and Leigh both do a decent job in their roles. They aren’t very complex characters by any stretch. There’s a rudimentary physiological explanation for Hedra’s obsessed behavior. It certainly doesn’t ignite any sympathy for her and they probably would have been better by not explaining anything. Still, Leigh is the more interesting of the pair as she transitions from this shy homely girl at the start to a real nut chasing Fonda around with a metal hook at the end.
I did enjoy seeing Stephen Tobolowsky play a less goofy character than he usually plays. Him sexually harassing Fonda and hitting Leigh around is quite jarring. It’s far removed from his more usual comedic parts.
I hadn’t seen this since the theater. I remember quite a few folks really liked it back then, but I don’t think its held up quite as well if those same people watch it today. Expectations have risen for this type of movie since then. Now Single White Female plays as pretty standard fare. There’s really nothing that unique about it or especially clever as to how Hedra torments Allison. Although the movie does have a really memorable title.
Rewatching this also reminded me what a big up-and-comer Fonda was during this time. It was looking like she was going to be around for quite awhile and would soon become one of the A-List stars we would be seeing for a long time. I guess after a few forgettable films and doing some smaller roles she decided to leave acting in the early 2000’s. I’m not sure if she’ll ever return.
Oh, that cheap sequel made thirteen years later – Single White Female 2: The Psycho. Yes, that’s the actual title and it is horrible! Anything that’s entertaining from this flick is stripped out of the sequel. There is zero reason to see it. You have been warned!
I miss the voice of legendary Don Fontaine narrating movie trailers