Look. There was a lot working against me finishing this review on time (which, I, of course, didn’t). The least of which was that they took Single White Female off of Shudder before I had time to watch it in time for this month celebrating this (supposedly) great streaming service. But feeling too lazy to switch Day 14 to another film from the same time period, I nevertheless went ahead and watched Single White Female anyways. And was it worth it? Well, considering it’s the kind of finely crafted pulp that one can only hope for in a trashy thriller, I’d say yes.
The titular Single White Female is Allie (played by Bridget Fonda, who was having a good year playing singles, considering ’92 was also the year Singles came out). After her fiance Sam (Steven Weber) is found to have cheated on her, she throws him out, and therefore has their swanky New York apartment all to herself. She then is seeking someone definitely not crazy to be her roommate, so she posts an ad and thinks she has found that someone in the unassuming Hedra (Jennifer Jason Lee).
The two quickly become chummy, though Allie learns some somewhat darker things about Hedy, like that she had a twin sister who died when she was young. Things then start to seem weird when Hedy forces a puppy on Allie, before something not great happens to the puppy after Hedy learns that Allie is back together with Sam. Things get even weirder when Hedy gets the same, ridiculously ’90s haircut as Allie, who then learns that Hedy is not her real name, and she’s clearly battling mental illness. Though before Allie can do anything, Hedy uses her Allie-like appearance to do sex stuff with Same before killing him, and that’s basically where the movie goes wonderfully into crazy town.
Actually, to be fair, the movie already heads in the direction schlock when Hedy gets the same haircut as Allie. I don’t know if this moment was unintentionally funny when the film came out. But it is now, just because the haircut Bridget Fonda is rocking did not age well at all, so it doesn’t help that it’s the focal point of this movie. Still, in its first half, the film has enough subtlety to not reveal itself as a full-on slasher flick, which perhaps makes things all the more enjoyable when people are getting stabbed with stilettos in the film’s final act.
I think one big reason Single White Female feels slightly a cut above your typical sexy ’90s thriller is the cinematography from frequent Dario Argento collaborator Luciano Tovoli. It’s perhaps a stretch to say that director Barbet Schroeder is channeling Argento here, but despite the fact that most of the film takes place all in one apartment, the look is quite moody and expansive. Meanwhile, when people do start getting killed in the finale, there is a decent amount of suspense and care put into orchestrating an over-the-top demise.
But really, this movie would not work without Jennifer Jason Lee. Playing someone who is both kind and vulnerable at first, but slowly descends into insanity is not the easiest thing to pull off, though I’m sure the kind of role that any actress would love to try. Lee meanwhile, does it to great effect, and it’s even kind of nice that the movie doesn’t cheaply exploit the fact that her trauma is what has fueled her violent antics. In turn, she’s actually kind of sympathetic, even if she is ultimately the kind of villain that I imagine people in the theater were yelling at the screen to get her red-headed comeuppance.