“VILLAINS” was an unassuming thriller that garnered a lot of buzz after its premier at SXSW. Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, this story follows Mickey and Jules played by Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe. They’re a young couple in the humble beginnings of their criminal career that find themselves on the run after a robbery. Mickey and Jules seek refuge in a secluded home where they are confronted by the eerie homeowners after stumbling across a grim secret neither were prepared for.
Of all the films screened at SXSW this was the one the stuck out to me. The premise is simple, with situations and scenarios that are easy to relate to because they weren’t over embellished. This opened the door to a world of creative possibilities in a crime-thriller with sinister psychological elements and charming dark humor. Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe also added a ton of appeal to this film. I think Skarsgård has proven he can accomplish any character-type a story can request of him. And I feel Monroe is a grossly under-rated actress that has a wide range of skill when investing in a role. Put all these dynamics together and the result was a wildly charismatic thriller with true tension, great performances, and genuine unpredictability that created a ton of natural suspense.
Pure charisma in the sense-of-humor is captured in the opening scene. It sets the stage for the tone the humor will take when woven into this dark plot-line. Hilarity is created from the interactions in the conversations, not punch-lines. It’s born from the situations the course of the story takes and it makes the comical beats hit with impact. It’s an example of truly engaging cinema when you can be completely creeped out, while at the same time finding yourself chuckling. A combination of feelings that is not always accomplished in this genre. A single location is used for a bulk of the story and it works perfectly to build ominous backdrops primarily because of the normal look to everything. It’s a common house, one many people can place themselves in and when the demented undertones of the story-line kick in it’s makes it that much more engaging and immersive.
Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe were both fantastic. It doesn’t take long to be connected to them. Their chemistry felt authentic and it sold me on their Bonnie and Clyde-esque criminal path. Their personality traits complemented one another nicely and it actually made them both appealing despite being common criminals. There is a heart to them and a sincerity that grows through the story making it easy to forget their past actions to get behind their journey in the narrative. Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgewick were also excellent as the eccentric homeowners. These veteran performers threw themselves into their roles and the result was impressive. Donovan’s George was cold, deeply disturbed and he carried it with an unnerving sense of charm. Sedgewick as Gloria went all in and completely captured this character that was as equally mentally ill as she was deranged.
Something this film thrived on was the relationships between the two couples. They felt genuine and I could see why they were attracted to each other. It was also interesting and at times fascinating to see through the course of the story how one fueled the other both for the good and the detriment of their lives. For Mickey and Jules while they both had their issues, they supported each other to bring the best out of the other, at times in very comical ways. For George and Gloria their bond was something that seemed to fuel the others insanity and while it was subtle it was a fun parallel to see play out. As two criminal couples, on different sides of the severity spectrum went head-to-head.
The pace was swift. It for the most part plays out in real-time. I could feel the growing fatigue in the characters. As it progressed the desperation continually increased, and it connected with me. I could feel the weight of their fight for survival. The comical undertones weave in perfectly with the suspense driven sequences and the result was a crazy ride with some well-crafted twists and turns. In addition to some unpredictability in a script that shows thought, ambition, and a focus on the game of cat-and-mouse. Not simply jump-scares and violent visuals to build frightening scenes. The cast is small and all of them work perfectly for their roles to create a subtly impressive ensemble cast. In a movie that I highly recommend keeping your eye on when it gets either theatrical, or On Demand and digital distribution.