Two psychological thrillers that absolutely send chills down my spine almost from beginning to end are Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) starring Julia Roberts Patrick Bergin, and Kevin Anderson, and Enough (2002) starring Jennifer Lopez and Billy Campbell. In both cases, the husbands begin with subtle abuse but when they don’t get things exactly the way they want them, they become possessive and obsessive to the point where they are perfectly prepared to kill their wives.
In Sleeping with the Enemy, Patrick Bergin is obsessive about having everything in their house perfectly aligned from bathroom towels to kitchen canned goods and condiments. Everything perfect and in its place. He also suspects his wife, Laura (Julia Roberts), of flirting with other men, in particular, a neighbour on their Cape Cod beach where they live in a beautiful upper class house. When Laura has had enough, she devises a plan. She learns to swim at a local Y, has her blind mother secretly moved so her husband can’t find her, and waits for a stormy night when they are invited aboard the neighbour’s yacht. She fakes her own death and devises a new life for herself in a suburban midwest school where she takes tentative steps to reach out and trust another person, a high school drama teacher and neighbour, Ben (played by Kevin Anderson). Until one day, she realizes that her husband has realized her deception and is searching for her.
One of the most startling things about the movie Enough, is the character played by Billy Campbell, Mitch. I’d only ever seen Campbell playing the part of a good guy before, and at the start of the movie, that’s the role he was playing. It’s only after he has married Slim (Jennifer Lopez), that we begin to see the real him, and takes even longer for Slim to recognize that things take a drastic turn when everything doesn’t go his way. By now, there’s a 4-year-old daughter (precociously played by Tessa Allen), Gracie, and she and Slim hit the road, constantly living in terror, with contingency plans for everything that could possibly go wrong. Finally, she recognizes that he holds all the cards, and he will kill her if she doesn’t take steps.
One of the things I found interesting when researching a bit about these movies (like dates made, and characters’ names), was that (and here I’m generalizing, of course, but it’s how it struck me) reviews by males tend to be rather blasé about the story line, whereas reviews by women find these movies realistic and more than a bit scary. I believe that even today, men who aren’t abusive don’t necessarily recognize that this type of male does exist, the woman does not invite it, and often is intimidated and isolated to the extent that she is unable to act. Women watch these movies and recognize these things do happen, the men who abuse women are skilled at hiding their natures from the women they marry for a certain period of time, as well as from their friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. It is scary, and you watch these movies knowing that “there but for the grace of God”, and you are rooting for the women here to make it, to survive, to have that second chance they’ve finally realized they do deserve.
Sleeping with the Enemy is based on the book of the same name written by Nancy Price, and Enough is based on the 1998 novel Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. I would say both books would fall into that “new” sub-genre of crime fiction being called domestic noir. Watch the movies. Read the books. Be aware. Know your friends. * * * * *