Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen
Starring Bill Skarsgård, Maika Monroe and Jeffrey Donovan
MPAA rating: R for language throughout, some violence, drug use and sexual content
Runtime: 1 hour and 28 minutes
by Fiona Underhill
2019 has been another strong year for smaller independent horror with Ready or Not, Braid, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Perfection from the US, as well as One Cut of the Dead (Japan), Tigers are not Afraid (Mexico), Gwen (Wales), The Isle (Scotland), Knife+Heart (France) and Little Monsters (Australia). Now from writing-directing team Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, we have a worthy addition to this roster in the shape of Villains, featuring two rising stars of the genre, Bill Skarsgård (famous for his role as Pennywise in It) and Maika Monroe (It Follows). They play Bonnie and Clyde style duo Mickey and Jules and the film opens with them robbing a gas station wearing pigeon and horse masks. When their car breaks down during the getaway, they stumble across a large, remote house, which they need to get into to find car keys so they can steal a car. However, what appears on the surface to be a bland, middle-class home throws up some nasty surprises…
The couple who live there are George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) and they quickly start to turn the tables on the invaders, outwitting them at their own game. This seemingly perfect suburban couple have dark secrets in the basement and the bedroom and they start to play mind games with the outlaws. This film constantly plays with the concepts of villain/victim and captive/captor as audience sympathies shift between the characters. It is delightful to see Sedgwick (who was in one of my all-time favourite films, Cameron Crowe’s Singles) sinking her teeth into this deliciously hammy role and, the perhaps lesser-known, Donovan is also excellent as the scheming puppet-master, constantly one step ahead of the criminal couple.
The production design (by Annie Simeone) in George and Gloria’s home and their costuming (by Stacey Berman) is very much 1960s influenced, freezing them in the image of the genteel Southern gentleman and the perfect housewife. George’s moustache-and-cravat combo and Gloria’s purple button-up dress are highlights, not to mention the batshit few minutes when Gloria all-too-briefly becomes a femme fatale in black wig and long lilac silk gloves. George and Gloria are trying to recapture something in their lives which never existed – their mental image of a perfect family. They have tried to create this for themselves through two corrupted facsimiles of children – a kidnapped girl and a porcelain doll – and Mickey and Jules threaten both.
Having not seen It, this is my first real introduction to Skarsgård The Younger and I now considered myself a convert. Mickey has a confidence and charm which dissolves into wide-eyed desperation and his tall gangliness definitely aids the physicality of the comedy, once things start to unravel. Monroe does some great “drugged” acting (think DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street) and adds humanity to her developing relationship with the recalcitrant kidnapped ‘Sweetie Pie’, who George and Gloria have chained in the basement.
The soundtrack is great, especially the one-two punch right at the end of “Safe Travels” by Redding Hunter, followed by “Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett. The latter song is played over the gorgeously animated end credits which, themselves, are an example of the attention to detail that has been applied to the film as a whole, especially in costuming, props and the color palette.
Villains is a welcome addition to the beloved genre hybrid of comedy-horror and offers a refreshing twist on the home-invasion plot. It features a fantastic quartet of performances, who all play off one another extremely entertainingly. Donovan and Sedgwick are clearly relishing their roles, going to town and having as much fun as possible. Skarsgård proves he’s a compelling screen presence even when not covered in clown makeup and Monroe builds on her growing reputation as a valuable part of an indie ensemble, or as a lead. Villains is a fun ride and definitely worth your time, especially if you enjoyed Ready or Not from a couple of months ago. Particularly as we wait for fall (or as some of us know it, awards season) to properly kick in, this movie will provide an entertaining stop-gap after what has been a crushingly disappointing summer at the movies.