★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Bumbling burglars and crazy retro-suburbanites collide in the horror-adjacent home invasion comedy Villains, featuring a couple of familiar genre faces.
Directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen
Villains is a new thriller/comedy that was featured as part of the Popcorn Frights Film Festival slate of films. The Festival describes the film as “A perfect mix of Don’t Breathe, Raising Arizona, The People Under the Stairs, and Twin Peaks.” I couldn’t agree more. To me, it also has the feel of Mom and Dad from last year. This film is a clever assemblage of all of those films, largely light in tone, but also featuring a good injection of intensity to keep you on edge. And, it happens to feature a few recognizable faces.
Mickey (Bill Skarsgård- Pennywise in It) and Jules (Maika Monroe from It Follows) are a pair of not-too clever burglars who are starting on a micro-crime-wave of gas-station robberies on their way to Florida. They are confident that their newfound courage and skullduggery will allow them a comfortable life at the beach by day and rubbing convenience stores by night. They didn’t think things through, however, as their car runs out of gas on a country road. Ironic, since they just robbed a gas station.
Mickey and Jules manage to find a nearby home, and they abandon their vehicle in hopes of finding another car to steal, or fuel, or pretty much anything to get them back on the road. The home that they break into seems cut from 1955, looking very much like the midcentury modern suburban ideal, a real anachronism. They scour the home looking for keys to the car in the garage, and display a general disregard for the risk that they are taking, by letting their guard down and relaxing a little bit. Who stops to eat mini-wheats when on a raid? Yep, these two. Nobody’s home, what’s the rush, right?
Once they get their act together, they manage to stumble into the basement, and there they find a girl chained to a pipe, and looking very sullen, and remains silent, with nary a peep for help. Mickey and Jules head upstairs to look for some tools to release the little girl and then plan on making a break for it. That is until they are interrupted by the owners of the house, George (Jeffrey Donovan) and his wife Gloria (Kyra Sedgewick) who encounter the young burglars as they are rifling through the kitchen cupboards, looking for something that could free the girl in the basement. Fortunately for Mickey and Jules, Mickey has a gun.
We learn that George and Gloria claim the girl, whom they call Sweetiepie (Blake Baumgartner), is their daughter, and that she is being punished for bad behavior. Jules and Mickey aren’t buying that argument, so they all go down to the basement, where Mickey threatens George at gunpoint and demands that he unlock the little prisoner. George unlocks Sweetiepie’s bindings, who despite the entreaties of Mickey and Jules, does not seem to be intent on leaving. When Mickey tries to pull Sweetiepie away, she bites down on his arm, hard, forcing Mickey to drop the gun. George takes advantage of the situation and knocks both Jules and Mickey out. So much for that idea!
The remainder of the film is a captor/captive tale, as it is slowly revealed as to how odd George and Gloria are. George is a charmer, a Southern charmer with a pencil mustache, and a silver tongue. Gloria is a woman who desperately wanted kids but was unable to bear them, and she’s clearly delusional and broken. The escape plans, the rescue attempts, the foiled plots, these are all familiar tropes but are all well executed.
Though I found the whole movie entertaining and enjoyable, it didn’t have a lot of crescendo moments. The emotional tour was modest and the film is definitely more suspenseful than scary. All of the characters were compelling, with each player providing an amusing aspect. And though the tropes were familiar, you didn’t feel like the plot was railroading you. This would be a suitable gateway film for those of you not yet ready for major intensity and gore.
Villains is not yet rated, but will probably be rated R, for language, adult content (mild sexual content and criminal behavior) and violence. Gore content is pretty low. Scariest Bridge Too Far Meter about a 10 out of 30. Villains just played at the Popcorn Frights Festival and will be working the circuit for a while, no major screening or streaming date is set yet.