Single White Female (Home Video Review)

Starring Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Steven Weber, Stephen Tobolowsky

Directed by Barbet Schroeder

Distributed by Scream Factory

1992 was a banner year for films featuring a deranged female lead, with Basic Instinct, Poison Ivy, Hand that Rocks the Cradle and director Barbet Shroeder’s Single White Female all hitting multiplexes within months of each other. I remember catching most of these in theaters or on VHS – except for Basic Instinct, which I didn’t see until years later because it seemed too adult, if that makes sense – and the stories held plenty of appeal for an 11-year-old boy. Psychologically tense. Swift violence. Obsession. Passion. Nudity. These are films able to tap into real fears, such as letting a stranger who seems “normal” into your life only to learn they are completely unhinged. You imagine leaving this person with your kids, or your partner, or your pet – what could a person with a misaligned moral compass do to destroy everything you have? In Single White Female the answer is assimilation, with a newfound roommate attempting to attain the life of her unsuspecting host. The film disturbed me all those years ago but this isn’t a case where childhood terror doesn’t hold up – as an adult, aspects of the story are even more frightening than before.

After catching her boyfriend Sam (Steven Weber) cheating, Allie (Bridget Fonda) kicks him out of their shared apartment – which is friggin’ gargantuan by NYC standards – and begins her search for a new roommate. After finding a few potential candidates Allie soon meets Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh, nicknamed “Hedy”) and an immediate connection is formed like the two were long lost friends. Hedy quickly integrates herself into Annie’s life, enjoying the requisite “girl time” and deepening their bond by discussing closely held feelings. Unbeknownst to Annie, Hedy takes it upon herself to delete voicemails from a repentant Sam looking to gain entrance back into Allie’s life; she’s a bit too protective of her newfound friend. Once Sam does finally get to Allie, and successfully wins her back, Hedy’s true nature is revealed and Allie’s former bestie becomes her worstie.

Shroeder deftly builds up these characters are three-dimensional people, examining the strengths and weaknesses of both Allie and Hedy, traits that are later exploited in the film when shit hits the fan. Allie is shown to be softer and more trusting, though she has claws available when absolutely required. Hedy, meanwhile, puts on an innocent act that belies her true intentions that are not entirely clear, something that makes her character all the more chilling. The film posits there may be no lengths to which she won’t go in order to get what she wants; even murder is merely a means to achieve her end. I mean – spoiler alert – Hedy and Allie’s new puppy is mysteriously killed after a fall from their apartment and it is blindingly clear Hedy was behind it. And the reason for offing an innocent pooch? It liked Allie more.

Hedy and Allie’s relationship ebbs and flows until reaching a crescendo, which is the point when Hedy gets a makeover to look exactly like Allie – mushroom hairdo and all. Allie is clearly disturbed by Hedy’s actions but her doppelganger brushes off her concerns, completely disregarding the feelings of the person she claims to hold so dear. Single White Female is a case study in BPD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and although Hedy’s actions are unquestionably abhorrent she is a sympathetic villain because nobody can control his or her own brain chemistry. She was involuntarily made a monster. At times her lack of social niceties are advantageous for Allie, such as when Hedy takes on a sleazeball client (played perfectly by Stephen Tobolowsky), but once the tables are turned Allie learns the depth of Hedy’s derangement. Unlike many other tales of jilted females produced during this period, there is no male lead waiting for the opportune moment to knock out our loony leading lady so the audience can call it a day. Allie has to contend with half-a-deck-of-cards Hedy and she isn’t quite the physical match, forcing her to rely on wits during a tense cat-and-mouse climax.

One aspect of this film I enjoy is the jumble of feelings and emotions constantly present, with characters often shown in various states of vulnerability. Allie is dejected following her breakup with Sam. Hedy is a lonely soul who only wants a partner to be hers and hers alone. Sam is groveling, begging Allie to take him back. Even Graham (Peter Friedman), Allie’s neighbor, a man who tries to be her rock, is a loner living with his cat who has few prospects for love. People make irrational decisions in these states and by exposing these weaknesses it makes certain choices more palatable.

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the 1080p image is a strong image overall with only a few minor issues. The opening flashback scenes are awfully grainy but past that point film grain is smoothed out for the remainder of the presentation to look filmic and lively. The image is moderately soft at times but close-ups are handsomely detailed and definition is good. The cinematography evokes a smoky, sultry mood with lots of filtered lighting and blue gels used during the nighttime scenes in Allie’s apartment. The image is far better than the old Columbia DVD and makes for an impressive leap into the HD field.

The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is a simple, direct, no-frills affair with clean dialogue, balanced levels, and another exemplary score from the legendary Howard Shore. The soundtrack is supportive and complementary to the characters and their motivations while resisting the urge to become too bombastic.

There is an audio commentary available, featuring Director Barbet Shroeder, Editor Lee Percy, and Associate Producer Susan Hoffman.

Interview with Director Barbet Schroeder – The helmer discusses aspects of the production, such as the project’s genesis, shooting, releasing, and legacy.

Interview with Actor Peter Friedman – The actor talks about his portrayal of Allie’s neighbor and the atmosphere working on set.

Interview with Actor Steven Weber – The screen veteran talks about his approach to playing a slightly sleazy character and what it was like working against the dynamic of two leading ladies.

Interview with Screenwriter Don Roos – The scribe discusses adapting John Lutz’s novel for the silver screen, as well as what it was like working with the creative team during production.

A theatrical trailer is also included.

Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with Director Barbet Schroeder, Editor Lee Percy, and Associate Producer Susan Hoffman
  • NEW Interview With Director Barbet Schroeder
  • NEW Interview With Actor Peter Friedman
  • NEW Interview With Actor Steven Weber
  • NEW Interview With Screenwriter Don Roos
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Single White Female (1992)
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