The evolution of a genre about evil encountering a greater evil is one that’s gained a decent amount of traction recently, and as a result, Villains, written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, doesn’t exactly tread new ground. Instead, it provides a fresh enough twist on the concept and is executed gleefully by a talented cast, resulting in a solid, crowd-pleasing B-movie. The film easily blurs the lines between gross and hilarious, between unnerving and outright creepy, doing so in a way that results in a delightful, if somewhat generic little comedy-thriller.
Mickey and Jules (Bill Skaarsgård and Maika Monroe) are a pair of hapless, not-too-bright youngsters on the run after clumsily robbing a gas station. After their car breaks down — despite having just robbed a gas station — they seek refuge and hopefully a new car in an adorably bucolic house in the middle of nowhere. Once there, they start finding more and more unusual — if not downright disturbing — elements to the house, coming to a head when it’s charming owners, Gloria and George (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan) return home. Gloria and George try to reason with the kids, engaging them in conversation and even offering them cocktails, until they’ve lulled the dimwitted pair into a false sense of security. And then, the trap is sprung and they slowly reveal their true natures. And their true natures are crazy. Beneath that facade of casseroles and cravats, turntables and table linens, are a pair of absolute sociopaths. The film becomes a tin can horror story, with Mickey and Jules jumping back and forth between capture and escape while slowly uncovering their weird, dark secrets.
It’s fun! It’s as breezy as a chilling little thriller can be, not making the audience work to hard and not reveling in pain or torture. The film’s one squirm-worthy scene is more about Jules and Mickey having to harm themselves to get out of a tight spot, and while it’s not exactly pleasant, it’s a far cry from torture porn. But the film’s wacky pastiche of pastels and kitsch make for a terrific juxtaposition with the craziness and bloodshed, and the directors make it work pretty well. More importantly, the four actors put in great work, with Sedgwick and Donovan absolutely chowing down on the scenery with a delicious gusto. Skaarsgård and Monroe give charmingly goofy performances as a pair of ill-equipped dummies who have just enough personality and sweetness to make them likable protagonists, even as they bumble every plan.
The film is a good time, but it’s also a bit hollow. There’s no backstory for Jules and Mickey — they’re headed to Florida for reasons unknown, from a place unknown, with no motivation or history to them. They’re a couple trapped in the moment that writers created, with no purpose other than to escape and be funny. Gloria and George get a bit more depth as some of their history is revealed as the other two traipse through their house, but not all that much. As such, you feel like you’re watching good performances of characters that you don’t get particularly invested in other than their basic charms and dialogue. Perhaps we don’t want to know every second of their lives before this, but something might have given the film a bit more weight.
As a result, Villains is an enjoyable, but perhaps not too memorable crime romp. It’s funny and occasionally lightly scary, with a couple of creepy moments that build up a nice sense of atmosphere. But it’s not going to set the world on fire. I suspect once it hits the streaming services it’ll get some legs under it because it’s perfect for a lazy popcorn evening. It’s endearing and even engaging, but lacking enough to be a rousing success. However, it takes a well-trod genre and injects just enough life into its premise to make it worthwhile.
Villians screened at the 2019 SXSW film festival.
Header Image Source: Getty Images