The early ’90s was kind of a hit-and-miss era for thrillers, namely the ones with a female lead. While there are some solid features such as “Misery” and even “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle,” there was an equal amount of cheezy, melodramatic, painful bowel movements that passed themselves off as cinema. “Sleeping with the Enemy” is such a movement. I had vague recollections of watching this movie when I was a kid (my parents were pretty leniant), and even then I barely remember being scared. But, as this movie was a big hit in its day, I decided to give it another try… it was even worse than I remembered.
The story opens with a young Julia Roberts, donning her “I’m so cute,” half-smirk as she collects clams on the beach. Her husband approaches and seems like a decent guy, though a bit older. They live in a beautiful white house, positioned right on the beach. This seemingly idyllic life turns out to be a tale of terror for Roberts’ Laura Burney, as her husband is soon revealed to be a controlling, abusive monster. He even enforces strict rules about having their hand towels and canned goods arranged perfectly. His reasoning is never explained–the audience is left to fill in the blanks.
So, one evening while sailing, Laura decides it’s an auspisious time to fake her own death by drowning (which also features the solo voice-over narration in the entire movie, for some reason). Why does she do this rather than divorce the bastard? Well, she explains that if she ever tried to involve the police or the law, her husband would “punish” her. That’s about as much as we get. Again, it’s left up to viewers to invent the backstory the main character is running away from. Laura then hops on a bus to Iowa and sets up life in a small town. Her life couldn’t be going better: she’s dating her next door neighbor, Ben, and has a new job working as an assistant as the library. I doubt this is the life that most people would envision for themselves, but for Laura, it works. And why shouldn’t it? After all, we know nothing about this character, other than she fears her husband.
And speaking of whom, several clues have been left that convince the widower that Laura is still alive. He disocvers her wedding ring which she (idiotically) tried to flush. Who knows why she didn’t decide to pawn it. He then hires a private detective (who is oddly never seen or heard from again), and he quickly discovers Laura has relocated to a small town near her mother’s nursing home. They way he discovers this isn’t really very creative either, it’s pretty sloppy. He simply finds out Laura’s mother is still alive (he was told she was dead), and he visits nearby nursing homes until he finds the right one. Lucky for him, the mother happens to be blind and very gullible.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Julia Roberts, and it’s movies like this that convince me I’m in the right. Her acting here is painfully equivelent to a chainsaw enema. She can’t deliver lines effectively. Her character always looks and acts like she’s constipated–it’s a wonder why anyone would even be drawn to her. If the movie didn’t take it’s premise so seriously, her performance might be more forgiveable, but this movie takes itself all too seriuosly, and it does nothing but result in a camp execution. Coming high off her success in “Pretty Women,” this movie garnered a large audience in 1991, making over a $100 million. Money wasted.
And while it does feature a chilling premise, the finished product is blatantly terrible. The pacing in this movie doesn’t work quickly enough, and it relies too heavily on its score to create emotions. But again, Julia can’t act so what choice did they have? The great Jerry Goldsmith composed the music for this, but he didn’t seem to give much of an effort. It sounds like it was created in a day.
But the main reason this movie isn’t thrilling is because of the husband, played by Patrick Bergen, whom I never heard of. It’s clear he possesses and Irish accent and his attempt to cover it up renders his character robotic. We just don’t know what drives him to be so terrifying, and while we see him punch and kick Laura out of jealousy, this character still isn’t scary. Begen doesn’t emote, and the synthesizers cued to his actions make it almost laughable. We never see the flash in his eye when he goes from normal to crazy. There’s no sense of his control over his wife. It’s simply told to us. An actor like Peter Coyote could have made this work, but Bergen delivers a flat, monotone character.
Kevin Anderson’s (whom I also have never heard of before this) Ben is also a dud. He plays a failed actor and attemps to appear charming, sweet, and caring, but it just isn’t conceivable paired next to Robert’s frigid Laura. And this guy has so much facial hair, it’s hard to tell what emotion he’s feeling. A Muppet could have done a better job. In his desire to woo Laura, he comes across as creepy. These two have zero chemistry together.
So basically, what it boils down to is a love triangle with three dull, one-dimensional characters. And there’s really nothing to take from this movie. I don’t mind giving a movie that took some time to create a lot of critical thought, but this one is the result of lazy writing and deserves no analysis about the story. It pretty much relied on Roberts’ star power. Don’t watch it. It’s not even “so bad it’s good.” It’s just plain stupid and thoughtless, even for an early ’90s piece.