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.


Villains

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

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
The Hidden Cost of Labor Calculated in <i>Building the American Dream</i>
The Hidden Cost of Labor Calculated in Building the American Dream
In the rubble of the NOLA hotel collapse, Chelsea Hernandez's documentary remains relevant

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 6, 2019

Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Spring fest unrest

Mike Clark-Madison, March 22, 2019

More by Matthew Monagle
Vanguard
Jackie Chan goes back to being Jackie Chan in this globe-trotting action-comedy

Nov. 20, 2020

Habitual
Overstuffed indie horror is like watching an OSHA violation

Nov. 13, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

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

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle