SXSW 2019: VILLAINS Review – Dumb and Lovable Fun
Starring Maika Monroe, Bill Skarsgård, Kyra Sedgewick, Jeffrey Donovan
Written by Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Directed by Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Characters in horror movies are usually forced to make stupid decisions so that the plot can move in a certain direction, but the character’s stupidity is usually not justified, until now. It takes a certain director to make having dumb characters work in a movie, and a very special one to tackle such a difficult genre as the dark comedy. With Villains, Robert Olsen and Dan Berk prove themselves to be those directors, having made a film that is as bonkers and outrageous as it is a hoot and a half.
Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) aren’t the criminal masterminds they think they are. They have big plans of moving to Florida and live the good life, but before they do, they fund their trip by incompetently robbing a gas station – taking their sweet time to figure out how to open the register. Jules and Mickey are no modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. They are not nearly as good as committing crimes or making smart decisions but are probably more akin to the dumb but likable couple in Raising Arizona. After leaving the gas station with some cash, they realize they forgot to fill up the gas, and end up stranded in a forest, until they see a secluded house, that is, and break in with a plan to steal the car they see in the garage. But then they go to the basement.
Monroe and Skarsgård have great chemistry together, and you’ll believe that they are a couple who’s been doing crime for years. Monroe has some unexpected gravitas that we haven’t seen her do since It Follows, and Skarsgård nails the physicality and the comedy of his role – just watch his facial expressions for a clear answer on why he got the Pennywise job. The two are very likable and sweet, even if they are the stupidest people you’ve seen in a while. This works for the movie, as it easily justifies the dumb decisions the characters make because it takes the time to establish that we are not following smart people.
Everything changes once Mickey and Jules find a little girl chained up in the basement and try to rescue her – yes, these gas station robbers also have a big and selfless heart. The only problem is that the house owners arrive. Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) and George (Jeffrey Donovan) are the mirror image of Mickey and Jules, only older and with the psychopath level turned up to 11. From the moment we enter their house, we get a feeling something is off. The house looks stuck in the 50s, and Gloria and George look and act the same, only more threatening. Donovan is terrifying as George, threatening you with unspeakable torture before making you laugh with some witty one-liners. The standout of the movie is Sedgwick, who is unrecognizable as Gloria. Her backstory is the most tragic and developed of the lot, a very polite psychopath who offers you tea and biscuits while tying you to a chair and plugging your eyes’ out.
Berk and Olsen make great use of their small cast and even smaller location. Through the runtime of Villains, we get a pretty good sense of the layout of the land, and the directors find new ways to use each of the rooms by having Jules and Mickey try new ways to escape their predicament, making a small house feel like a huge labyrinth.
Villains is an entertaining and thrilling black comedy featuring your new favorite crime couple, and great performances from its small cast.