When Julia Roberts fakes her own death in the 1991 movie Sleeping With the Enemy, she flees this contemporary Cape Cod beach house where she had lived with her abusive husband, played by Patrick Bergin. Just like her marriage, this house looks good at first, but we soon learn that it’s a kind of isolated prison for her.
Tortured wife Laura Burney spends a lot of time looking out at the ocean. Later in the story, we learn that it’s because she is planning to escape in it.
This Cape Cod beach house isn’t really on the East Coast. According to several sources, the exterior was the Shell Island Resort Hotel in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. They say it was shot from angles that obscured enough of the building to make it appear to be a house.
However, when I looked up the Shell Island Resort Hotel, this is what I saw:
It’s hard for me to believe any kind of angles could make this look like the house in the movie. A reader named Evie insists a single-family home was used for exterior shots, not the resort. She adds that it still stands on Figure Eight Island near her family’s beach house.
*8/11 UPDATE: A reader sent me photos of how the beach house facade looked during filming. Here’s the front:
And here’s how it looked from the back, revealing that it was only a shell:
Thanks to Mike in NC for passing these photos along!
According to IMDb.com, the interiors were filmed separately: “Filmmakers created a 3,000-foot temporary structure on Shell Islanta, a man-made extension on the north end of Wrightsville Beach. The house overlooked Mason Inlet and nearby Figure Eight Island. After wrapping, 20th Century Fox demolished the house and restored the dunes to their original condition, planting sea oats and beach grass (from A Film Junkies’ Guide to Wrightsville Beach).”
An article in The New Yorker cites Cathy Whitlock on the topic:
A beach house was built from scratch for the film ‘Sleeping with the Enemy.’ Whitlock writes that the entire design concept for “Sleeping with the Enemy,” kudos for which go to production designer Doug Kraner, was centered on the notion that the film would be divided visually into two worlds: Laura’s secluded life at the beach house with her abusive husband, and her “new” life in a small town in Iowa with Ben, the painfully dorky drama professor.
Looking into the house from the outside, we see Laura sitting at the vanity in the bedroom:
The kitchen is gray, sleek, and modern. The whole house seems to reflect Martin Burney. Laura spends a lot of time in here preparing gourmet meals for her husband and hoping that they meet his approval. In her spare time, she arranges flowers in vases. There doesn’t seem to be much else for her to do, besides making sure all the towels are perfectly lined up…
Looking from the kitchen into the living room:
Everything is black and white, including the imposing painting that hangs over the fireplace:
The black floors are so shiny you can see yourself in them:
In the bathroom, we see that the hand towels aren’t as straight as Martin likes them to be, and that’s never good…
After Laura “drowns,” Martin closes up the beach house. In this shot of their bedroom, you can see the walls of windows overlooking the water:
In Roger Ebert’s review of the film from 1991, he questioned a lot of the details:
I kept having questions, such as: (1) If the wedding ring is still in the bottom of the toilet, does that mean the toilet hadn’t been used for weeks? (2) How did the woman in the YWCA class get Bergin’s number at work? (3) How did Roberts pay her mother’s nursing home bill in the six months after she told her husband the mother was dead? (4) How did Bergin know where Roberts lived before she led him there? (5) How is it possible, in a small house, for a man to avoid discovery while slinking around rearranging all of the towels and canned goods? (6) Why would he bother, anyway?
The movie was based on a novel by Nancy Price. Apparently the beach house in the book was kind of a ratty little shack. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the movie as much if they had gone that route!
P.S. Julia Roberts’ Victorian Cottage from the movie is for sale: