VILLAINS is a horror/comedy from co-directors/writers Dan Berk (The Stakelander) and Robert Olsen (Body), that centers around two amateur criminals who break into the wrong suburban house and stumble upon a dark secret that suggests these homeowners are anything but sane. The film stars Bill Skarsgård (IT: Chapter 2), Maika Monroe (It Follows), Jeffrey Donovan (Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) and Blake Baumgartner (Fosse/Verdon) and just had its Midwest Premiere at the Cinepocalypse Film Festival.
Couple Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) have just robbed a convenience store in order to move to Florida where they can start a new life. While trying to get as much distance between them and their crime they run out of gas prompting them to find the nearest home in hopes of stealing a car. Luckily, they find a quaint house close to them and proceed to break in only to then discover a young child chained up in the basement. As they try to find a way to break her free they are interrupted when George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) arrive home. George tries to strike up a deal with Mickey and Jules in which they can take the car instead of the girl, but Jules refuses, setting into a motion a series of comically violent scenarios that guarantees no one will get out unscathed.
What I really loved about this film was the juxtaposition between how we perceive criminals and how we perceive those that we think are innocent. It’s easy to think that Jules and Mickey are criminals, they love their drugs, they have tattoos and tongue piercings, and they are somewhat reckless in their actions. This is in contrast to George and Gloria who live in a beautiful mid-century modern home, dress in expensive clothing and speak in a high-brow Southern accent. On the outside, George and Gloria seem like the type of people who would NEVER be holding a captive child in their basement, but alas, they are. Because of this, the film lends itself to an interesting dynamic between Julia and Mickey vs. George and Gloria, showcasing that it’s important to never judge a book by its cover. Furthermore, Jules and Mickey prove to be a lot smarter than they are given credit for, allowing the audience to view them as an anti-hero of sorts.
I was lucky enough to originally catch VILLAINS when it premiered at SXSW but at the time I wasn’t able to write a review and I’m kind of glad for that because watching it again I was able to pick up on things that I missed the first time. Most prominent was how certain scenes were framed which were then referenced back further into the film. For example, there’s a scene in which Jules is eating cereal – there’s nothing particularly interesting about that until we eventually learn of her background and how she became the person she is. It’s subtle nods like that which really elevate the story as a whole and it was something that I truly appreciated about the film. It goes without saying that the writing is superb since combining horror and comedy is not always the easiest thing to do. However, Berk and Olsen knock it out of the park by not only making this film smart and funny but also giving us enough horror to satiate our craving for the macabre.
In terms of gore, there’s not an over-abundance of it but when it does shine through it’s nothing less than impactful. This is mostly seen towards the end of the film where practical effects reign supreme, though I’m sure a little bit of CGI was used to convey the overall effect. Also, I enjoyed how the film used real sets as opposed to large scale greenscreen vignettes. Though I understand the reasoning behind the use of greenscreens, I miss the use of practical sets and designs that once filled Hollywood-style films. Even the moments when Jules is giving Mickey a “car wash” (which I promise isn’t a sexual innuendo) these scenes were done beautifully and conveyed a closeness and level of caringness between the two that was palpable and genuine.
At its core, VILLAINS is a sort of cat and mouse chase in which the viewer is never sure how the film will end. Though it’s a struggle to know who to root for at first, as the story progressively unfolds and the reasoning behind George and Gloria’s desire to have a child locked up in the basement is revealed, it’s not hard to begin to sympathize with the situation that Jules and Mickey have found themselves in. For me, that’s what makes this film so great because it makes you truly question who the villains are as we begin to further understand just how unstable and psychotic George and Gloria are. Both Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick shine as their respective characters, to the point where you kind of hate to love them. And honestly, that’s what makes this film so much fun.
In all, VILLAINS is a film that I’m glad exists and one that I’m even happier I got to see for a second time. It’s a fun, wild ride that is a true reminder that you can never really trust those who seem to be the most truth-worthy. With memorable performances from our four leads, you’ll be hard pressed to not laugh and cringe as each horror and misstep unfolds, which is why this makes VILLAINS one of the most fun-filled horror comedies of the year. Be on the lookout for when VILLAINS arrives in theaters this Fall!