Erotic thrillers are a dying breed, but there was a special time in the late 80s and early 90s when they ruled the box office; titles like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, and The Last Seduction titillated audiences, and became mega hits on home media.
So for a kid who was born in 1985, movies like Single White Female held a special kind of lurid allure. I remember walking by the VHS cover at Blockbuster. Something about it was “naughty.” It featured Bridget Fonda looking both beautiful and frightened, while Jennifer Jason Leigh peered menacingly at her from behind a cracked door. What was going on there? Was someone after them? Was Leigh stalking Fonda? Were they fighting over the same man? Were they—gasp—lovers? It was too much for my pre-adolescent brain to digest.
Let’s put it this way: the cover screamed, “Look the other way, kid; there’s no way on Earth your mom will ever let you rent me!”
Over the years, I’ve gone back and watched a few of these erotic thrillers, and I have to say, they make terrific party movies. They’re big, flashy, and melodramatic; chockfull of “Oh, shit!” moments and copious amounts of nudity. If you’ve never watched one of these erotic thrillers with a group of close friends, do yourself a favor and try it out. In all honesty, these films are a laugh riot and do a good job at keeping people’s attention in a group setting.
But, for whatever reason, Single White Female was one of those titles that I never got around to watching as an adult. There are new movies coming out every weekend, so why would I waste my time on a lesser-known erotic thriller from 1992? Isn’t there something better out there for me to watch? Don’t I need to catch up on The Mandalorian or something?
Look, I get it, there’s a ton of content out there on streaming platforms, and it’s getting harder and harder to diversify your viewing behavior, but sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone. Sometimes you just have to say, “Fuck it. Tonight’s the night I finally watch Single White Female.” And, believe me, you won’t regret it.
In Single White Female, Allie (Bridget Fonda) has just discovered that her boyfriend, Sam (Stephen Weber), is cheating on her with his ex-wife. After they breakup, Allie advertises for a new roommate and ultimately settles on Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). All seems wonderful at first, but as they get to know each other, their friendship quickly degrades into obsession and mimicry. When Hedy goes into full-on slasher mode, will Allie make it out of her apartment building alive?
There’s a lot to appreciate in Single White Female: the performances from Fonda, Leigh, and Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day)—as Allie’s too-handsy-for-his-own-good boss—are top-notch; the direction from Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Kiss of Death, and Murder by Numbers) is elegant with just the right amount of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” at the material; and the cinematography from Luciano Tovoli (1977’s Suspiria) plays with elements of the surreal by bathing the actors in deep blue and amber tones.
While it’s labeled as an erotic thriller, I truly think that Single White Female is a slasher movie—in the vein of Halloween and Friday the 13th—without the disguise. However, in the wake of the #MeToo Movement and the way that this particular story unfolds, common slasher tropes take on new meanings and nuances that weren’t initially intended. In the early 90s, for instance, Hedy’s actions of revenge against Allie’s enemies would seem like they went too far, but to modern audiences, it may read like she’s an ally that’s only doing what’s right to defend her friend (in the beginning, that is).
Remarkably, with age Single White Female is gaining substance and is well-worth your time. Currently, it’s streaming for free on Amazon Prime.