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*Minor spoilers ahead*
Psychological thrillers are a most demanding genre of film. Even beyond the bedrock expectations of suspense and mystery that comes with its prestigious ‘surname’, it must still dutifully explore the shapeshifting labyrinth of the psyche while toying with the audience’s own expectations and simultaneously keeping them in the loop. Well executed psychological thrillers are, as a result, exponents of unrivalled cinematic satisfaction. Though not without its faults, Kike Maíllo’s A Perfect Enemy is a worthy edition to the genre.
Its protagonist, renowned architect Jeremiasz Angust (Tomas Kot), has his airport bound taxi stopped by a sodden Dutch girl, Texel Textor (Athena Strates). When she asks for a lift, he reluctantly agrees, and so begins the 90 minutes of soul-stripping for the befuddled hero. Initially, Textor’s unrelenting chatter is tempered by Angust’s newness to her, but quickly becomes grating to him when they both miss their flights and are stuck together for the next two hours.
It is blatantly obvious that Textor and Angust are disparate personalities, not meant to be in forced contact for so long. Angust appears relaxed, composed and quiet – Textor is chaotic, unsettled and inexorable, threatening to disturb her prey’s attempts to unwind.
Her disturbance comes in the form of storytelling, recounting her traumatic childhood through a long flashback, punctuated by Textor and Angust’s moral and intellectual debates on her ever-increasingly apparent psychopathy. This conversation is hampered by some rather plonky dialogue which often curtails the overall rhythm and intensity, but much of this is made up for by a combination of the invested acting of Kot and Strates and the efficiently paced interaction between flashback and real time.
Indeed, the first act and much of the second are taken up by this structural dynamic; Textor initiates conversation through incessant force of will, Angust indulges then grows resentful, they separate and the cycle repeats. But, just as fatigue owing to this structure sets in, the story shifts up the gears, following twists with more twists that tie the previous plot details into a cohesive chain of events, if the twists are not always plausible themselves. The pacing itself is brilliantly calculated here, not just functional for the story. It drives Angust to emotional revelation and true introspection which is where Kot and Strates enjoy their best moments; not so bound now by the zip-ties of exposition.
It is refreshing to see a film use so many of the facets at its disposal to try and gain that extra yard. The direction is clean and mobile, the score compliments and boosts the image but does not impede on the tension and the script is efficient in its rise towards intensity. Occasionally, A Perfect Enemy frustrates. It is not perfect, but its effort and intelligence in synthesising a complex story to come to a satisfying and surprising climax deserves praise and admiration in an industry that has become plagued by low-risk, passionless blockbusters.