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SXSW Review: 'Villains'

For their third feature film collaboration, directors (and writers) Dan Berk and Robert Olsenhave crafted a compact and delightfully dark comedy/thriller about amateur criminals in love and on the run that packs a mighty punch in its 88-minute runtime.

Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) are charming and reckless love birds, hell-bent on scamming and thieving their way to Florida to sell seashells down by the seashore. First step in this master plan: a gas station robbery. However, in what proves to be true Mickey and Jules fashion, they neglect to ensure they have enough gas for their get away car and wind up stranded a short distance from the scene. A nearby home provides a secondary escape option, but when homeowners George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) show up – all their best laid for beachside bliss plans derail spectacularly.

Donovan and Sedgwick hit home runs as a quirky couple serving up Norman Rockwell-inspired looks, Southern charm and saccharine smiles. Clearly too polished and too perfect – even to two witless darlings who couldn’t remember to fill up the gas tank. When their façade drops, it’s a fast and furious role reversal as the villains find themselves imperiled by a pair of villains with a sadistic edge and a young girl named Sweetie Pie (Blake Baumgartner) chained to a pole in the basement.

Skarsgård – known for terrorizing audiences as Pennywise the Flossing Clown – flexes some surprising comedic muscles as he keeps one eye on his lady love and the other on a way out of this house of horrors, far away the terrorizing twosome. Monroe (fresh off a similar role in the 2018 thriller Tau) has the familiar charm of a 90’s indie darling. She’s the perfect complement to her (less murderous and well-intended) Mickey and refuses to shrink on-screen when up against her captors who effortlessly take command of every scene. Donovan and Sedgwick’s shine as mutually-dependent monsters with murder on their minds and a penchant for shepherd’s pie and sharp creases. They have a masterful balance of sophistication and insanity: polished, genteel, and just one “I do declare” away from being completely unhinged.

Berk and Olsen clearly found inspiration in past offerings like Misery, The People Under The Stairs, Natural Born Killers and even Pulp Fiction. We get laughs with the thrills. We get kink. We get shock and awe. We get coked-up young love and the bravado that all things are possible through that love. We see the dangers of co-dependency and how it manifests in relationships, ultimately becoming a pernicious third wheel for each couple. We see the constant give and take required in relationships and the importance of never letting your car get below a quarter-tank full.

Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) and George (Jeffrey Donovan) in Villains

Villains never lets up, never lets you take a breath and relax – almost as if we’re being terrorized with Mickey and Jules. The only fault in it is a series of spectacular blunders and terrible character choices in the last act that had viewers channeling their inner Brenda and yelling at the screen (fifty points to you if the reference lands. If not, my apologies). In my notes is a very pained “I DON’T KNOW IF THESE PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE” written very clearly – even in the dark – because it really seemed as if they did not.

If you’re looking for a good time, watching the millennial Mickey and Mallory go up against crazed captors who clearly enjoy sipping sweet tea on their front porch and coming up new methods of torture is sure to provide just that.

Also, if someone you know still has plastic fruit in the year 2019, might I suggest that you run.

Quickly.

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