The information age has brought with it all kinds of new fears, from identity theft, online fraud and computer hacking, to paedophile rings, torture websites and terrorist recruitment. Perfect Stranger taps into the greatest and perhaps most primal of these – the fear that the boss might walk by while you’re looking at porn on the internet.
In Perfect Stranger, this fear is essentially played out over the course of an entire movie, as journalist Rowena Price (Halle Berry) goes undercover as a conspicuously glamorous temp at the ad agency of Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Hill is a millionaire who may or may not have murdered her twitchy childhood friend (Nicki Aycox), with whom he may or may not have been having an affair, conducted largely via Instant Messaging. Naturally, this leads to lots of scenes of not-particularly-cinematic online chat, in which Rowena pretends to be someone else in order to ensnare the boss, and the participants read out whatever they're typing for the benefit of the viewer. And there’s also the aforementioned frequent suspense sequences where Rowena must hide what’s on her computer screen from Mr Hill, or explain what she’s doing poking around his office.
The film marks Halle Berry’s third foray into woman-in-peril territory (following The Rich Man’s Wife and Gothika) and she basically gives the same performance again here. This wouldn’t be a problem, since the role requires her to do little more than look scared in a low-cut blouse anyway, were it not for that fact that – oh the horror – Perfect Stranger turns out not to be a proper woman-in-peril movie after all. That’s right; despite what sounds like a perfectly workable suspense set-up, the film wallows in the once-shocking, now lame tradition of The Sixth Sense (eight years ago, dammit!) of preferring to have a twist instead of a climax. So what you get is three-quarters of a decent thriller followed by one quarter of senseless what-the-fuckage, which more-or-less throws the story right out the window of Rowena’s implausibly fabulous apartment.
Anyway, I did say “three-quarters of a decent thriller” and Perfect Stranger is watchable on that level. It’s refreshing to see an A-list thriller these days that doesn’t thrust every plot point down your throat. You actually have to pay attention to keep up with this one, with much of the early exposition coming from the gossipy tongue of Clea Lewis, the ever-perky Audrey of TV’s Ellen, and a delight here as one of Rowena’s co-workers. But, oh, it’s not that I demand a rigid formula from my women-in-peril thrillers, just that I’d rather see a story go from A to B and make sense, than go from A to Z then back again, miss out F, M and R, and leap to “£” just for the sake of a shocking final twist.