1992’s Single White Female successfully rode the wave of tense thrillers that defined a decade of psycho sexual dramas and softcore cable films. Though often copied and parodied, the film remains the best “bad roommate” movie ever made. It’s filled with talented actors, dynamite cinematography, and keeps you on the edge of your seat till the credits roll. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray provides a great A/V presentation and a slew of new bonus features worth checking out. Answer the classified ad cause this one is Recommended.
“Gee Hedra, I hope you never get mad at me”
Roommates are the worst, right? Even if you get to share a place with your best friend you’re still going to get on each other’s nerves. Some petty detail is going to peck away at you every time you see them. Whether it’s an open toothpaste tube or the loud parties having a roommate can take some adjustment. The next time you’re about to break the lease and shack up with your ex-boyfriend take at look at Single White Female and see how that turned out.
Software programmer Allison (Bridget Fonda) kicks out her cheating fiancé Sam (Steven Weber) after his ex-wife calls with a sexy invitation. Moving to NYC, Allison doesn’t know anyone except for her cat-loving neighbor Graham (Peter Friedman). Out of options, she places a classified ad for a roommate. Her cavernous rent-controlled apartment is a steal, but too much for one person to handle. The introverted Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) shows up answering the ad as Allison cries on the floor thinking of Sam. She seems like a perfect match. The move-in montage shows some obvious foreshadowing like a screwdriver to run the elevator door, the incinerator room, and the after-hours laundry room full of creepy weirdos. The two roomies become fast friends until Allison suspects something isn’t quite right about her new roommate. A hostile rift emerges as Hedra becomes possessive of Allison once Sam tries to reconcile the broken relationship. The cozy veneer begins to crack wide open when Allison discovers that her controlling roommate has the exact same wardrobe as her and a penchant for flirtatious breakfasts with Sam.
The late ’80s and through the ’90s saw the rise of a wonderful psychosexual-thriller subgenre. From Fatal Attraction to peaking with Basic Instinct and a million variations with softcore cable films, there was something for everyone. Director Barbet Schroeder’s Single White Female could easily be written off as a cheap thriller like those cable films fueled by cheap sex and a thin story. I’d agree with that if it weren’t for the outstanding performances and Schroeder’s ability to develop the story and characters beyond the genre's conventions. For starters, the obsessive manipulator is a woman seeking to control another woman, which twists the accepted notion in these kinds of films (although the film isn’t without toxic male behavior either). While Allison is incurring the wrath of Hedra’s mind games she is dodging the unwanted sexual advances of her software client Mitchell (Stephen Tobolowsky) and rekindling the broken physical relationship with Sam. The once sweet and trusting Allison is now suspicious of everyone’s intentions elevating the sense of paranoia and intrigue that makes Single White Female more than just an average thriller.
Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda rise to the occasion and offer up memorable performances that are hallmarks of their celebrated acting chops. Witnessing the subtle manipulation from Leigh gingerly slide into obsession then become unhinged violence makes the film worth watching. Leigh seemingly possesses an arresting quality in every performance that lures unsuspecting characters to their doom. Her recent turn in Good Time is an excellent example. Thankfully Leigh is given plenty of room to stretch this character’s neurosis and develop it nicely. Fonda’s Allison begins the gradual acceptance of the terrifying reality closing in which morphs this once ambitious programmer into a fighter hellbent on survival. Simply brilliant work here that never veers into the countless exploitative parodies we’ve seen over the years. Steven Weber turns in a solid performance as Sam that could’ve been anyone else, but his commitment to the more salacious scenes allowed this character to be fleshed out more than expected. No pun intended. The supporting cast is all great including a fine performance from Peter Friedman as Graham the neighbor and Stephen Tobolowsky as the creepy client Mitchell.
Single White Female did for classified ads what Psycho did for showers. Surely, after this film came out, parents everywhere were helping struggling daughters with rent and bills in hopes they wouldn’t get caught within a similar situation. Let’s not forget 1992 also brought us gems like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Crying Game, and Basic Instinct. However, where SWF endures isn’t in a single moment or quote, but in producing a solid character-driven thriller. It goes the extra mile handling the sexual content and squeamish gore without a hint of subtlety. All of these elements combined and you’ve got a stylish thriller that never looks down on its audience.
I had a great time revisiting Single White Female and getting sucked into the crazy story again. For all of its successes as a solid thrill ride, it’s also a wacky guilty pleasure for fans of '90s dramas. Add in some black leather gloves and you’d have an American giallo! The film still holds up as a great little slice of paranoia that bears rewatching.
Blu-ray Vital Disc Stats
Single White Female moves into the apartment with a BD-50 Region A Blu-ray in a standard keepcase. The disc opens to a Shout! Factory logo before landing on the static Main Menu screen. Typical navigation options available.
Presented in 1080p with an Anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Single White Female looks great, with this transfer reportedly carried over from a 2K scan for European releases. Retaining fine film grain and stable colors the image quality is naturalistic with depth and vibrant primaries. Skin tones are warm throughout the feature. Black levels are solid like the pumps Hedra tries on, but become slightly noisy and unstable in dark interior shots and some shadows. A softness prevails during interior shots with natural light that juxtaposes the blue-hued nighttime scenes rife with detail and tension. Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s (Suspiria, Tenebre) photography here is absolutely stunning as expected.
Single White Female calls about the classified ad with a respectable DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. The mix is clear and clean with a nice balance but lacks some much needed depth. The film is dialogue centered but in the cavernous apartments of NYC we lose a bit of clarity in the dialogue track. Music and effects are nicely reproduced without pushing out the dialogue. Some hiss is evident but isn’t. Keep the volume at a medium level so you don’t miss out on all the ambient effects and scoring elements.
Shout! Factory puts together a great set of features for this Blu-ray release. The interviews make up the majority but its the commentary track that I recommend the most.
Single White Female remains one of the great thrillers from the 1990’s. Thanks to a talented cast, a solid script with fully fleshed out characters, and a commitment to the story’s emotional stakes by a veteran director, the film still works incredibly well. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release arrives with a solid A/V presentation and loads of new bonus features sure to please fans of the film. Recommended.