SXSW Movie Review: ‘Villains’

Review by Cole Clay

Before you read any further, VILLAINS is a darkly comic blast. This home invasion thriller has some twists and turns, but its predictability doesn’t get in the way of the comedy, the performances and the filmmaking craft of directing duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (BODY) are worthy of nite. This brisk film shows its cards early and keeps the frenzy of energy flying by, creating a fun midnighter of a movie that would even play well even in the day light. Bottom line, VILLAINS is an electrifying romp.

Two lovers on the run Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) looked to be ripped from the pages of a Quentin Tarantino script with a greaseball feel and quick-witted dynamic that come into their own as characters and never feel indebted to the fact that they are working off a familiar template. Monroe and Skarsgaard find a zippy and lovable balance to their relationship, working together to escape out of a situation without fully thinking through the ramifications of each wrong-headed situation they encounter. After robbing a convenience store, the duo haul ass and run out of gas a few miles down the road. From the film’s opening minutes, you can see a pace that’s relentless and nails the tone right from the jump. This is a film similar in style and humor to Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, but more satisfying. Skarsgaard and Monroe find a way to make these numbskulls rotten to the core, but totally sympathetic. We call that the power of love.

The duo stumble into an empty and secluded suburban house that’s just a bit too quiet for comfort. Mickey is a master at lock picking, but resorts to using a crowbar to get in the door. Berk and Olsen have great foreshadowing skills, aspects of the film are always coming back into play in unexpected moments; these are the thrills genre fans are chomping at the bit to see.

Just when you get comfortable, enter home owners George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick), who look like they are straight up ripped out of a Norman Rockwell painting on Thanksgiving Day. Then, throughout the last hour of the film, it becomes an inverse version of FUNNY GAMES, and then that’s where the fun comes into play. Donovan plays George like a straight-laced mad mad who puts on the “Father Knows Best” routine and has this sinister Southern drawl to his speaking. He seems to have taken advantage of Gloria from a young age and has manipulated her into some serious mental instability issues. This isn’t explicitly said, but Sedgwick’s performance spirals into a person on the verge of breakdown; watching her try to hold onto her dignity is a bit heartbreaking.

This is such a sinister little film that has these couples playing off one another brilliantly. Using the juxtaposition of young love versus middle-aged marriage, and criminals versus middle America, plays in the best of ways. There isn’t a dull moment.

Shot primarily at one location, Berk and Olsen find creative ways to allow this film to be cinematic. Laundry shoots are used for set pieces and tongue rings come into play – These guys know how to keep things light, twisted, and gleefully gory. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next; bring them onto the Blumhouse team of filmmakers, please, and thank you.

VILLAINS is a ton of fun with its genre thrills and the surprisingly potent love affair between Skarsgård and Monroe. These young actors have solidified tombstones in the horror hall of fame with previous roles in IT and IT FOLLOWS, respectively. Skarsgard steals the show with his manic-yet-charming behavior, and Monroe is, once again, the coolest customer in the room. Unfortunately, VILLAINS doesn’t have distribution yet. But this one demands to be seen with a crowd.

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