Right off the bat Villains lets you know it’s not the standard film fest fare. We’re introduced to Mickey (Bill Skarsgard) and Jules (Maika Monroe), two young lovebirds who happen to be sticking up gas stations to scrounge enough money to keep chugging along on their road trip to the ocean.
Yes, they may be criminals, but they’re more in the gentleman/lady mold than the psychopathic type. Their hearts are in the right place and the chemistry between Skarsgard and Monroe is crackling from frame one. They’re just quirky enough to be fun and just dangerous enough to make you a tad uncomfortable with how much you like them.
They reminded me a bit of the characters from Raising Arizona. Mickey and Jules wouldn’t feel out of place in a Coen Brothers world. They’re a bit exaggerated, but somehow grounded in their weirdness if that makes any sense
Unfortunately for these two their car breaks down and they find themselves breaking into an isolated house. If you’ve seen a movie before you know the seemingly empty house isn’t as innocuous as it seems, despite its picture perfect everything-in-its-place look both inside and out, and won’t be surpised when they find something… not cool… in the basement.
The film gets our leads to the house quickly, but still gives them some time to breathe and become characters we’re invested in before the owners show up. This is key.
I can’t stress enough that the movie’s quirky tone rests so heavily on Monroe and Skarsgard’s relationship. If we didn’t dig them both as individual people and as a couple the whole thing would start to unravel. Thankfully they’re awesome so the thing works despite some minor pacing issues in the second act.
Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick also bring their all when they come into the picture. I got a very People Under the Stairs Everett McGill/Wendy Robie vibe from their characters and thats a good thing. They’re a little too ’50s nuclear family mom and dad nice. Again if you’ve seen a movie before you know there’s a whole lot of crazy hiding under the surface.
Sedgwick in particular really swings for the fences. Her Gloria has a screw or two (or three) loose, taking the perfect mother image she has of herself to the absolute limit. To say more would be to undercut the actual experience of watching the movie, so I’ll show some restraint, but know that she relishes playing a role like this and that makes it super entertaining every time she’s on screen.
So often at film festivals you find yourself in a slump of mediocre or too-serious movies, but Villains is most certainly not that. It’s the kind of movie fest-goers appreciate. While not exactly mainstream, it’s still light and fun enough to keep from being a slog.
Young filmmaking team Dan Berk and Robert Olsen do solid work here, keeping the camera moving so the film never feels static and never forgetting their ace in the hole is the relationship at the core of this story. It’s tricky to pull of a quirky story like this without feeling either derivative or hackneyed and they do it, which shows that even at this early stage of their careers they have the confidence to embrace their own voice.
Overall, Villains was a very pleasant surprise at this year’s SXSW and one that makes me even more eager to see what’s next for Skarsgard when he gets to hang up his Pennywise suit after this year’s It: Chapter 2. If any of those follow up films happen to co-star Maika Monroe then I’m doubly excited. These two need a franchise together. It could be them solving crimes or stealing priceless art from fancy international museums or fighting Nazi zombies or exorcizing demons out of household pets or some combination of all the above. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, but I know I need it now.