An eerie tale of marital dysfunction
Seyfried delivers haunting performance in toxic love triangle
It might take two to tango. But it takes three to make a triangle, and in matters of lust and love, a triangle generally spells tragedy.
We know this rule of romantic geometry walking into Chloe, Atom Egoyan’s feature set against the upscale backdrop of affluent Toronto. We also feel we know the central couple: Catherine (Julianne Moore) and David (Liam Neeson) are two successful professionals with a teenage son and an architecturally spartan home.
They live well. They have great friends. They seem like the epitome of mature, married bliss — and to top it all off, these two beautiful people genuinely seem to like each other, more than a decade deep into matrimony.
Yet, in the opening scenes of this stylish psychological thriller, David fails to make it home for a long-planned surprise birthday party, leaving Catherine just a little miffed about where her hubby placed his priorities for the evening.
When Catherine finds a picture of David with one of his attractive female students saved on his cellphone, she begins to distrust and question the spoken communication — and decides instead to go straight to the brain stem.
In a moment of confused jealousy and brewing rage, she decides to hire a local sex worker to tempt David in the hopes that she’ll get to the absolute truth of David’s suspected infidelity.
Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) would be a tough offer to refuse. Young, fresh-faced and able to fuse girlish innocence with a dominatrix touch, Chloe is a sexual tornado. She pulls people into her vortex, where the familiar outlines of one’s emotional Kansas immediately drop from view.
It’s a dangerous game, but Catherine and Chloe become fellow conspirators, hatching a plan designed to unveil David’s supposedly cheating heart. And, much to Catherine’s horror, it seems to work.
Chloe comes back from her first meeting with David full of florid details about their steamy encounter in a public greenhouse, and Catherine slowly comes unhinged.
She sends Chloe back out on sexual reconnaissance, then drinks in every detail of the forbidden moment, eventually losing herself in a paranoid game of sexual power and false personae.
Inspired in part by Anne Fontaine’s Nathalie, and sharing thematic threads with Stanley Kubrick’s monolithic Cruise-Kidman experiment, Eyes Wide Shut, Chloe doesn’t really cut a new swath through the narrative jungle of marital dysfunction and serial adultery.
It pivots on the matter of perception, and how the mere hint of another woman is enough to tear the fabric of commitment.
Getting a solid grip on these unseen and largely subconscious fears and impulses proved to be Kubrick’s toughest task, because certain members of his cast weren’t up to the delicate challenge.
Egoyan doesn’t have the same problem. Moore and Neeson are more than capable of slashing each other’s emotional carotids with silent stilettos, and Seyfried finds a whole new dimension to her onscreen presence as the otherworldly object of desire.
Keeping her pale moon face and oversized blue eyes quiet and peaceful, Seyfried creates an entire reflecting pool in Chloe’s features, and, as a result, we can easily see why both Catherine and David can’t stop staring. Yet, beneath Chloe’s compelling and apparently tranquil surface lurks a serpent ready to swallow a body whole.
Seyfried’s truly haunting performance as the polluted ingenue is mesmerizing in itself, but coupled with Egoyan’s signature off-kilter style and deep appreciation for subtext, the movie hits a sustained eerie note.
As a straight-up psychological thriller, the movie is a far cry from, say, Fatal Attraction — because it’s not about what happens on the outside; it’s all about mapping the interior of the jealous psyche and getting snagged on the sharp edges.
Egoyan does his best to show the equivalent of soft skin being sliced open by a hundred intellectual razor blades as he chronicles Catherine’s descent into selfdestructive paranoid fantasy. And while the emotional vio- lence of it never really crests, the creepiness of it does.
Chloe becomes the ultimate push-pull character: There’s something entirely repulsive about the way she exploits her sexual power, because it’s all hollow, but we still want to press our ear to her heaving chest to hear the pathetic echo of the human condition bounce off her bosomy walls.
Seyfried is so strong, she sells the whole movie through her deceptive doll eyes as we stumble from one scene to the next. The narrative weave could have been tighter, and there are moments that drain the tension, but Chloe succeeds where Kubrick failed, because it grabs personal identity by the genitals and squeezes.
When you’re in that particular moment, it’s not about deep thoughts. It’s about survival, and while it’s not all that comfortable, it’s the very best way to experience a story with a memorable femme fatale.