“And Still No Arrests”
“How Come Chief Willoughby?”
Let me say right off the bat this is not a review of Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (henceforth referred to as Three Billboards). There will be an element of review in this piece, but for the most part I don’t want to give anything away about the film. I saw it clean, and I think you should as well.
What this article is more about is how as horror fans, sometimes we will accept a “dark drama” into our ranks, such as Super Dark Times, Drive, Big Bad Wolves, Cold in July, Red, White & Blue, Gone Girl, Green Room, Hounds of Love, M.F.A, Prisoners, No Country for Old Men, and Nocturnal Animals (to name a few).
And if we are going to report on and review films such as these – which don’t feature nary a slasher or a supernatural slayer and only function as reminders of the devastation a dark mind can reap on those closest to him/her – then I see no reason we shouldn’t be celebrating Three Billboards as well.
So let’s get to it.
Earlier this year I had the chance to catch a screening of Three Billboards. I wasn’t sure what the film was even about, let alone if it possessed the kinds of elements that I enjoy in a film. Sure, it was already considered Oscar bait at the time; but still, it could have been much different than the kind of films I enjoy. It was a gamble, I’m not going to lie.
But I was more than pleasantly surprised once the film began to unfold, and even more pleasantly surprised once credits rolled. Not only is Three Billboards just the kind of movie that I dig, it is perhaps the best film I’ve seen all year, and most definitely boasts the year’s best screenplay. And I think other horror fans will think so as well.
The following article is basically an attempt to let you guys know that you need to see this film. As horror fans, I think it has everything that you could want in a motion picture – even if it isn’t straight horror by any means.
Wait, so this movie isn’t a horror film? Nope. So why am I even bringing it up here? Well, that’s kind of the point too. As much as Dread Central is a horror movie site, I think it’s important to recommend all kinds of movies – especially when they are of such high quality (and dark subject matter) as Three Billboards.
Let’s start with a quick plot rundown as even the film’s general plot escaped me, and quite a few other people, because it is too dark to print in most papers. But not here.
The film follows a mother grieving named Mildred (played by Frances McDormand) whose teenage daughter was raped, murdered, and set on f*cking fire a few months back, and the man responsible was never caught. One day, Mildred revisits the scene of the crime, where the ground is still burnt black from where he daughter was destroyed, and there are three unused billboards nearby…
She quickly buys them up and writes “Raped While Dying,” “And Still No Arrests,” “How Come Chief Willoughby?” across the stark-red billboards. This upsets the local police, led by Woody Harrelson, and before you can say, “Holy shit, Peter Dinklage is in this?!” things go from bad to worse to ultra-violent.
Basic story and plot out of the way, let’s get into the review part of this piece. First off, Woody Harrelson. Like everyone else, I love Woody Harrelson, and his performance in this film (“True Detective” aside) is quite possibly his best work. Harrelson’s sheriff is a dark soul, a man you can’t place your finger on. Will he become a hero or a villain by the time the credits roll? I’m not telling, but like every other character in the film, Harrelson’s arch is utterly shocking and will knock you off your feet.
On top of that, the film sports one of the best casts I have seen in a long time, including Frances McDormand, Peter Dinklage, Brendan Sexton III (Session 9), Samara Weaving (The Babysitter), John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Kathryn Newton (Paranormal Activity 4), Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out), and Abbie Cornish (Lavender), among others.
But the real breakout star of Three Billboards is Sam Rockwell. “Wait, Sam Rockwell isn’t a breakout star! We’ve all know how awesome Rockwell is for years now!” True, but even still the man blows the absolute doors off this film. His performance is one of the most layered, surprising, unsettling, scary, and sweet turns I have seen by an actor in years.
On top of all of that, the film is, you know, super violent. Well, not super violent, but when the violence hits, it hits hard. I won’t go into too much here, but I will give you a taste. The violence here includes brutal beatings (out of nowhere), bullets to the head, and a man getting a dentist’s drill through his thumbnail. It’s scary how real the violence feels in this film. Yes, there is love and redemption, but in the end this movie is bleak as balls and dark as hell.
Actually, one film that this brought to mind was David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Is that film “horror”? Nope. But it is directed by David Cronenberg and thus horror fans took notice of the film right out of the gate. Cronenberg didn’t direct Three Billboards (which is unfortunate because he would’ve knocked it out of the park), but if he had, Three Billboards it would be on your radar, big time; instead, it’s possibly slipping by you this awards season. This is me saying, “Don’t let it!”
Before I wrap this up, let me lay out another reason for the penning of this piece. With two much-loved horror films getting all kinds of Oscar-love this year, it may be easy to hate on Three Billboards if it snags some of Get Out and/or The Shape of Water‘s much-deserved Oscars out from under them. Don’t let this happen. While I’d love to see The Shape of Water – and especially Get Out – clean house come Oscar night, I’m thinking Three Billboards will emerge the supreme victor. And once you give the film a watch, you won’t have any issues with that.
In closing, Three Billboards is a film that I think everyone will love. Your mothers and aunts will think it’s for them, but they’ll no doubt find it too dark, disturbing, and violent for their liking. However, you might be forced to watch it over their shoulders, and you will be absolutely riveted. The film is a dark drama that – like David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and Kevin Phillips’ Super Dark Times – should be accepted with open arms into the horror movie community. It’s shockingly violent, deeply and darkly hilarious, and may even make you shed a tear or two.
No, Three Billboards isn’t a horror film. But it’s not to be missed. And now that you guys have been recommended the film from all of us here at Dread Central, we can sleep a bit better tonight. You’re welcome.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), and stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Brendan Sexton III, Samara Weaving, John Hawkes, Kathryn Newton, Caleb Landry Jones, and Abbie Cornish.
The film is currently in select theaters and available on Amazon Video and iTunes. It hits Blu-ray TODAY, February 27.
Mildred Hayes is the beleaguered mother of a young woman who was violently murdered. As the investigation into her daughter’s death stalls, Mildred takes things into her own hands and hires a painter to erect three billboards on the main roads leading into the center of the city. The billboards are designed to capture the attention of the lackadaisical police chief, who seems to be doing next to nothing to find the young woman’s killer. The deputy chief of police, a violent man himself, gets extremely riled up about the billboards, and a lot more violence and darkness takes place.