[Cinepocalypse 2019 Review] Villains
I’ve heard people and friends who I respect laud so much acclaim on this little movie called Villains. I was afraid that with so much good vibes surrounding the film, I would find myself disappointed. And while I probably don’t love it as much as some of my colleagues did, I gotta say, Villains is a bonkers treat and an unexpectedly funny surprise.
If I were to break it down, Villains is what would happen if two hapless and larger than life criminals from a Coen Brothers movie somehow stumbled onto the set of a horror movie that a subdued psychotic and a deranged Stepford Wife called home. And that bananas description—that took so much editing—is a good thing.
Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) are two ridiculously in love Bonnie & Clyde wannabes…minus the killing thing. As criminals in dark comedies and thrillers are wont to do, they just need one more score before they can retire to Florida and…well, pick up seashells by the seashore.
I’m not even kidding about that part.
But unlike these other criminal masterminds, Mickey and Jules’ idea of a last score is a convenience store. After accidentally scaring the manager to, well not death but at least fainting, they have to Forrest Gump their way into the cash box…by buying candy because the register won’t open without a sale. They’re loud and exuberant. Full of life and love. But not very smart.
Next stop: Florida!
But first! Some car head!!
Oh, wait. No. But first, first? They need gas because their car just ran out of it.
“We just robbed a…” Jules trails off and yeah, dear reader. They just robbed a gas station, but didn’t think to get gas. Luckily, there is a solitary house nearby that looks both extravagant and empty. So they break in and as they start going through the belongings, something just doesn’t seem right. This is further evidenced by the completely ignored camcorder Mickey tosses that turns on and shows a tied up couple crying. They need some inspiration for what to do, so they of course snort cocaine before getting the idea to check the basement.
And I don’t need to tell you that checking out the basement is never a good idea. And not just because the two owners, George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick), come home. But because of what they discover George and Gloria are hiding. What follows is a deliciously madcap home…well, not invasion so much as an escape as the two couples try to stay one step ahead of each other.
There’s truthfully not a whole lot to the story written by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (who also co-directed it). It’s a standard setup, but what happens in it goes from super serious to deliciously campy and back…sometimes in the same scene. But the kooky narrative whims are grounded by some truly fantastic performances. The entire foursome is uniformly excellent.
Mickey and Jules’ relationship feels real and lived-in. They have those quirks that couples develop that people looking in would groan about. For instance, to calm Mickey down, Jules will do a “car wash” by dragging her hair over his face and then pausing so that it’s only their two faces in the world. It’s saccharine but believable. Bill Skarsgård’s performance is hilarious, particularly his facial expressions. He can convey so much with just a twitch of his brow or a glance from his doe eyes. He’s continually proving that he’s the best Skarsgård with each movie.
On the opposite side, Jeffrey Donovan channels his best Frank Underwood (House of Cards) impression, complete with a Southern drawl and sociopath tendencies. He brings such a deadpan performance to what’s otherwise a manic movie. George used to be a salesperson and the way he can calmly tackle a situation and then turn on a dime is both hilarious and intense. But the most bonkers performance goes to Krya Sedgwick and her Stepford mom-turned-dominatrix-turned-mommie-dearest Gloria. She goes for gusto in a year that has seen so many strong actresses going fantastically campy. It truly must be seen to be believed.
In some ways, the two couples are perfectly matched thematically as well as narratively. They are the perfect foils for each other because they both have a deluded sense of the world around them. Mickey and Jules’ retirement plan rests solely on scooping up seashells in Florida and selling them because seashells are free. Pure profit, right?
Meanwhile, George sees the world as empty and filled with nothing more than cardboard cut outs, pretending to be human. And poor Gloria just desperately wants a family to the point she would do anything to get it. Both men would do anything for their ladies, including hide further and further in their respective delusions. In another world, Gloria and George could be Mickey and Jules decades from now.
And it’s the character dynamics that presents the surprising heart of Villains. After a second act filled to the brim with bonkers plotting, I didn’t expect emotional stakes as it crested the third act. Part of me wishes it had maintained that go-for-broke manic of the second act and escalated it to insane extremes. Instead of loosening the straitjacket and going for a crazed ending, it tightens the strings and becomes a more sentimental movie. In a movie filled with choices, that might have been the most surprising.