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Dustin Putman

Single White Female  (1992)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: November 13, 2018) – The "...from Hell" subgenre has seen innumerable entries in the thirty-one years since Michael Douglas was stalked by a jilted Glenn Close after a one-night stand in 1987's hit watercooler phenomenon "Fatal Attraction." Some have been better than others even as most follow a predictable narrative path. Not many, however, have retained quite the skill and overall oomph of 1992's roommate-from-Hell installment "Single White Female," a thriller that still works like gangbusters twenty-six years after its release. The film doesn't exactly break convention, but director Barbet Schroeder and screenwriter Don Roos (adapting the 1990 novel "SWF Seeks Same" by John Lutz) exhibit a keen understanding of how to build realistic characters and portray a hairy situation so frightening it's actually completely plausible.

When burgeoning software designer Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) discovers fiancé Sam (Steven Weber) has cheated on her with his ex-wife, she promptly breaks up with him. Nursing the loss of her relationship and uncomfortable with living alone in her NYC apartment, she places a newspaper ad for a roommate. Following a series of not-quite-right applicants, the introverted but kind Hedra "Hedy" Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) walks through Allison's door and they immediately hit it off. At first, all is well. They trade housewarming gifts, bond over a new puppy, and Allison helps Hedy shop for a stylish new wardrobe. When Allison and Sam begin to patch things up, however, Hedy sees their reconciliation as a threat against her home and new friend. And Allison, who cares for Hedy but also wants to move on to the next phase in her life, grows increasingly alarmed as she discovers the depth of her roommate's lies and mental instability.

Long before the end of "Single White Female," it is readily apparent who's the heroine of the story and who's the villain. It is a credit to the picture's writing and performances, though, that Hedy is not simply a one-note psychopath, but someone who is manipulative, emotionally wounded following a childhood trauma, and in deep need of help. When she gets in so far over her head that she has no choice but to do terrible things, the story grows scarier because it so easily could happen. Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh are terrific as Allison and Hedy, their chemistry off the charts when they are allies early on and then antagonistic as things spiral out of control. While never explicit, there is a sense that Hedy is in love with Allison, that she can't bear to let go of the only person she cares about, adding an additional provocative layer to a tense, attentive, well-constructed potboiler. Extra points go to an early-'90s studio feature with a healthy, refreshingly non-stereotypical gay character, Allison's friend and upstairs neighbor Graham (Peter Friedman), and a subplot involving sexual assault which feels one-hundred percent timely in this #MeToo era. Save for perhaps primitive glimpses of the Internet (CompuServe, anyone?), the riveting, most certainly crowd-pleasing "Single White Female" hasn't aged a day.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Single White Female" moves into the HD realm with a solid 1080p transfer. While this presentation appears to likely have been taken from a dated source, it is nonetheless an appreciable upgrade over the standard-def DVD. The picture is largely clean with no artifacts and few instances of dirt and speckles. Colors can have a slightly faded appearance and there are a few brief moments, such as an opening establishing shot of the main character's apartment building, that fall on the muddier side. Otherwise, the results are quite pleasing. Upticks in detail and clarity are notable, with facial features and subtle skin blemishes spotted clearly. Black levels are excellent. The 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio is effective, not overwhelming or with a bunch of sonic fireworks but an accurate display of the original sound mix. Dialogue is clean and clear, well-distributed within a strong mix that also includes plenty of suspenseful music and a few soundtrack cues. There is a particularly active scene set in a moody nightclub that nicely fills the soundfield even with a 2.0 track, and the same goes for the action-oriented climax.

Blu-ray Features
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Director Barbet Schroeder, Editor Lee Percy, and Associate Producer Susan Hoffman
  • NEW Interview with Director Barbet Schroeder (27:20, HD)
  • NEW Interview with Actor Peter Friedman (7:17, HD)
  • NEW Interview with Actor Steven Weber (19:41, HD)
  • NEW Interview with Screenwriter Don Roos (25:41, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:04, HD)
Bottom Line
"Single White Female" was a sleeper success in 1992 (grossing $48 million stateside off a modest $16-million budget) and became a cable mainstay through the '90s, but in more recent years it has seemingly fallen by the wayside. Scream Factory's eagerly awaited Blu-ray release should hopefully provide the film a fresh look from audiences and a new moment in the spotlight. It's a smart, slick, involving demonstration of how to effectively make a studio thriller of this ilk, and Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh are perfectly cast in the lead roles. The Blu-ray transfer is superior to all previous home video versions, and the disc also comes with a collection of brand-new bonus content, including a filmmaker commentary track and informative interviews with cast and crew. "Single White Female" comes highly recommended on Blu-ray.

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© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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