Film Review: Villains

Relationships are hard (when you’re aging spree-killers)

Some films were just meant to be Midnighters, no matter where (or when) they premiere. Villains, the third feature from writer-director duo Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, might be slotted into a genial weekend spot at this year’s Festival, but have no doubt: This twisted love would be right at home with the late-night crowd.

Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) are not particularly gifted criminals, but after hitting one last gas station on the way out of town, they find themselves on the road with a bag full of money and drugs. Then their car breaks down, inspiring them – after a little soul-searching and a lot of debate – to break into a neighboring home in search of gas. Instead, they find a little girl chained to the floor and a sinister couple (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick) with an unhealthy fixation on the two.

Like most black comedies, Villains demands that its actors take big swings in their performances. Skarsgård and Monroe are an unconventional pairing – the former is known more for his dead-eyed monsters than his leading-man charm – but here they are delightfully in sync as a pair of coked-out lovers using self-affirmations to navigate their life of crime. Donovan and Sedgwick, on the other hand, form a fractured vision of Fifties Americana gone mad. Had Bonnie and Clyde murdered their way into middle age – and struggled with fertility issues – they might have ended up a little something like this.

There are times when Villains feels like a loving send up of Nineties neo-noir, pitting Lynchian psychosexuality against the barrage of indie crime thrillers from the decade’s latter half. By all rights, that should be an exhausting combination – and there are a few scenes where the film threatens to wear out its welcome – but what keeps the dark fun moving forward is the care put into developing each couple. These might be violent, melodramatic love stories, but they are still love stories; each couple has mannerisms that belong uniquely to them, and the film finds endless ways to draw parallels between its four main characters.

Funny, energetic, and acted to perfection, this is the kind of off-the-radar standout you hope to find at any major festival.


Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere

Tuesday, March 12, 10:45am, Alamo South Lamar D
Wednesday, March 13, 5:45pm, Atom Theater at Austin Convention Center
Friday, March 15, 2:15pm, Alamo Ritz 1

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SXSW 2019, SXSW Film 2019, Villains, Dan Berk, Bill Skarsgard, Maika Monroe

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