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Single White Female (Blu-ray) (1992)
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Details At A Glance
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An erotic thriller with an unhinged female lead, 1992's Single White Female was released mere months after Poison Ivy, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Basic Instinct, all of which tread similar thematic ground. Scripted by television veteran Don Roos (his first feature film credit), the movie is an adaptation of John Lutz's 1990 novel "SWF Seeks Same," and the resulting thriller represents a mostly effective genre exercise thanks to a game cast and a capable director in Iranian filmmaker Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune, Barfly). Single White Female is a gripping slow-burn, evidently taking inspiration from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman, but, unfortunately, it is unable to stick the landing, with the third act devolving into clichéd slasher movie silliness.
A fashion software programmer living in New York City, Allie (Bridget Fonda) is left hunting for a new roommate to help with the bills after a tough break-up with her cheating fiancé, Sam (Steven Weber). Allie's newspaper advertisement attracts several unsuitable applicants, but she ostensibly finds the perfect housemate in the meek, kindly Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is eager to please, forcefully trying to befriend Allie by giving her gifts. However, Allie is creeped out by Hedy's obsessive behaviour, and a hostile rift emerges when Allie welcomes Sam back into her life, reconciling the broken relationship. With Allie and Sam engaged again, Hedy gets dangerously possessive of her housemate, especially with Allie wanting to live with her fiancé. Things only get creepier when Hedy starts modelling her appearance after Allie, buying the same clothes and even getting the same haircut, with Hedy unwilling to let anybody stand between her and the twin sister she has always wanted.
Although not revolutionary in the genre, Single White Female deserves credit for developing the two lead characters beyond surface-level archetypes, exploring Allie's professional and personal life to make her feel like more than just a bog-standard slasher victim. Furthermore, Hedy is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain; rather, she suffers from borderline personality disorder and has a backstory to explain her increasingly obsessive, violent behaviour. It helps that Fonda and Leigh go for broke both emotionally and physically in their respective roles, exhibiting gravitas and intensity, and the two actresses even bare all on several occasions throughout the film. The supporting cast is fine but unspectacular, with Stephen Tobolowsky (Basic Instinct) making the biggest impression as Allie's sleazy client, while Peter Friedman is believable and likeable as Allie's upstairs neighbour Graham.
Schroeder's sense of mood and atmosphere benefits Single White Female, with the movie at its strongest throughout the first hour or so. Schroeder stages ominous and unsettling beats, finding menace in Hedy's behaviour, and creating suspense as Hedy remains unseen in a dark apartment. With Hedy's behaviour continually escalating, Single White Female goes big in its latter stages, leading to a surprisingly action-packed third act that favours histrionic confrontations over nuance or subtlety. There is a way to execute this premise with a bit more tact and realism, but Schroeder and Roos were evidently aiming for a mainstream thriller, sophistication be damned. At least the set-pieces are competent, while the cinematography by Italian veteran Luciano Tovoli (Dario Argento's Suspiria and Tenebrae) is perhaps more stylish than the material deserves, with careful compositions and terrific use of shadows, while the Manhattan apartment - and, by extension, NYC - becomes a character unto itself. Luckily, the picture encapsulates an authentic sense of time and place, with nothing feeling like it was simply shot on a soundstage. Added to this, Howard Shore's score adds some perceptible menace, nicely complementing the visuals.
A distinctive early 1990s feel permeates Single White Female, particularly with the soundtrack choices as well as the recognisably ancient technology glimpsed throughout. Although by-the-numbers in terms of narrative construction, and even though this is an undeniably silly thriller as the finale approaches, the movie remains an enjoyable, compelling watch despite its flaws, and it's easy to laugh at the more over-the-top moments. It's disappointing that the movie never rises to the same level as a classic Hitchcock or Brian De Palma thriller, but it's certainly not the worst movie of its kind. Those who enjoy suspense thrillers will likely get the most out of it, while those who dislike the genre should probably steer clear.
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A movie that has long been relegated to streaming services (in standard definition) and mediocre DVD releases, Single White Female debuts on Blu-ray for the first time in the world courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment. (Mind you, a week after Umbrella's disc hit shelves, Shout! Factory released their own edition over in the United States.) Umbrella present this overlooked thriller in AVC-encoded 1080p, framed at 1.77:1 as opposed to its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with the image being slightly cropped to achieve the revised aspect ratio. (There are absolutely no black bars as a result, which may be pleasing for some.) Even though the movie has the entire disc to itself, it is placed on a dual-layered BD-50, mastered with a confidently above-average video bitrate of 32.66 Mbps. However, this looks like an older DVD-era master as opposed to a more recent remaster (and it was likely transferred from a second or third generation print, rather than the original camera negative). After all, Sony does own the movie, and they are capable of better. Single White Female looks similar to other Sony catalogue titles from older masters - see Not Another Teen Movie - but Sony's older masters are at least better than those from say, Universal, who favoured extensive digital noise reduction while preparing movies for DVD. The resultant Blu-ray presentation looks quite good, sometimes bordering on great, but it still lacks the precision and crispness that a proper 4K restoration could bring.
Clarity is noticeably mixed. The movie looks mostly great in bright, well-lit scenes, bringing out pleasing textures and looking agreeably sharp, with competent object delineation. A close-up at 54:20 of an envelope and fingers looks exceptionally textured and sharp. Although the darker scenes are still comprehensible, the master often shows its limitations during these sequences nevertheless, with grain looking blockier, underwhelming shadow detail, and only so-so colours and contrast. A bit more bothersome is that, despite the omnipresent grain, some moments carry tell-tale signs of DNR. Just see the shot of Fonda and Leigh at the 17-minute mark; the entire shot carries a slightly smeary appearance, as if some noise reduction was applied. This trait carries over into other occasional shots, with smeariness particularly evident on clothing. While grain management is not always an instant deal-breaker, the technology has advanced a hundredfold since the DVD era - and unfortunately, early DNR tools stick out like a sore thumb in high definition. Still, the transfer is watchable, and a huge improvement over previous standard definition presentations - it smokes the ancient DVD. Additionally, it's clear the movie was appropriately cleaned up during the remastering process, as the master looks pristine for the most part, free of any significant artefacts. There is only some very occasional and minor print damage, such as what appears to be a hair during a shot of Fonda at 36:27, and noticeable telecine wobble during the end credits, but nothing is too distracting.
From a colour palette standpoint, Single White Female's Blu-ray presentation is satisfactory. The transfer of course lacks the vibrancy and "pop" afforded by High Dynamic Range, and it is an older master so saturation looks too overdone at times, but the movie looks fine all things considering. However, skin tones occasionally look off, particularly in darker scenes, and white runs more towards pink. Contrast is adequate, with the image having some depth to it, but this isn't exactly a top-tier presentation. The transfer's big issue is macroblocking; just see the close-up of Fonda's face at 10:15 for an obvious example (notice the discoloured pixel structure on her face). The macroblocking reappears throughout the movie at various times, to varying degrees of distraction. It's visible on skin and pieces of clothing, as well as on walls and even a chest of drawers at 32:45. It is nice to see that the grain structure has not been completely removed, but the grain is not always finely-resolved and it often takes on the appearance of noise. "Scanner noise" is common in older masters, with film scanning technology having greatly improved since the early 2000s (perhaps explaining why digital noise reduction was so prevalent). This is about the only shortcoming from an encoding standpoint (assuming the macroblocking isn't baked into the master) - I was unable to detect any aliasing, ringing, or black crush.
In final analysis, Single White Female's Blu-ray debut is mostly good news, but the presentation is noticeably uneven. The majority of the movie looks quite good, while other shots exhibit minor smeariness and/or macroblocking. It would certainly be interesting to see what a 4K remaster from the original camera negative could look like. Maybe we'll eventually see one from Sony.
There are no subtitles.
Video Ratings Summary
The disc's sole audio option is a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track, which appears to be true to how the movie was originally mixed and exhibited (according to IMDb, it was mixed in Dolby Stereo). The sound mix is perfectly serviceable - it's evident that the audio received a proper remaster when being transferred to the digital format, as the track is clear and precise, free of any hissing, popping, drop-outs, or other audio artefacts. Additionally, there are no encoding shortcomings, such as sync issues. The movie sounds fine for the most part, held back only by the technology of the era (it's not exactly deep, with little in the way of LFE). And since this is a stereo track, it sounds sufficiently immersive (at least it's not mono). There are no problems with prioritisation, as dialogue is comprehensible no matter the music, atmospherics or other sound effects. Additionally, the sound mixing serves the track well, with NYC ambience coming through during street scenes, and sound effects such as gunshots packing sufficient impact. And thanks to the lossless encoding, the track sounds much better and truer than a DVD; it never sound underwhelming or "tinny."
Would a 5.1 remix be nice? Sure. Is it essential? Not really, given that this stereo track fills the surround channels anyway, and there aren't many meaty opportunities for panning or separation effects (such effects are absent on this 2.0 mix). Without emerging as demo material, Single White Female sounds perfectly sufficient for its Blu-ray debut.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Absolutely no extras are included. There is no main menu, either; the movie starts once the disc is inserted. (No pop-up menu, either.)
R4 vs R1
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non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
Shout! Factory's Region A-locked U.S. Blu-ray was released the week after Umbrella's disc hit shelves, and contains the following supplements:
It's worth noting that the Shout! edition appears to use the same master, though I'm unsure if the macroblocking is present since I do not own the disc. Shout!'s disc retains the movie's original aspect ratio. The Region A Blu-ray is the clear winner, particularly since so many key players participate in the supplements. However, the high price-tag and the restricted region coding might give some people pause. If you just want the movie, Umbrella's release is fine. If you want extras, go for the Shout! disc.
- Audio Commentary with Director Barbet Schroeder, Editor Lee Percy, and Associate Producer Susan Hoffman
- Interview with Director Barbet Schroeder (27:20)
- Interview with Actor Peter Friedman (7:17)
- Interview with Actor Steven Weber (19:41)
- Interview with Screenwriter Don Roos (25:41)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:04)
Although not exactly a revered classic or an overlooked masterpiece, Single White Female is satisfying thriller entertainment; nicely-made and well-acted with some effective scenes, but not memorable or masterful enough as a whole to make a lasting impression.
Umbrella's Blu-ray release is exceedingly workmanlike; a watchable 1080p high definition video presentation and a lossless audio track, but no extras, no subtitles and not even a menu. It's not an overly expensive release, so fans simply wanting the movie in HD will be satisfied.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Friday, February 01, 2019
|DVD||Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|