Midway throughOnly the Good Survive, the local sheriff, Dennis Miller impersonator (Frederick Weller) is interrogating young Brea Dunlee (Sidney Flanigan) about her involvement in a string of ritualistic murders and asks “…is this a comedy or a horror?” While the film chugs along like an Edgar Wright-inspired effort, this very sentiment is really the film’s problem. It wants to be both. Unfortunately, juggling these two juxtaposed art forms is a tricky bit of business that is almost never accomplished.
There’s a handful of laughs and there’s some gore courtesy of a Satanic cult, but it never quite knows which side of the fence it wants to land. While the film certainly knows the beats and tropes of the language of film, it has an awfully difficult time stringing together a coherent sentence.
Directed by Dutch Southern, Only the Good Survive involves a love story, that’s part of a family revenge narrative and one that also generates another love story. At its core are Brea Dunlee and D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (Bear from Reservation Dogs) and their accidentally cosmic encounter born of puppy love and familial revenge.
Brea and her deeply connected boyfriend become aware of a series of 1933 double eagle coins. Taken out of circulation only a handful are known to exist. The elderly couple that’s holding on to them actually has several in their possession. Each is valued at nearly $20 million dollars and they decide that those are heist-worthy numbers.
A team of miscreants and reprobates is assembled for the heist, but when they arrive there are no coins just a mysterious baby in a cage and a series of occult-like pre-history Druidic symbols. Something’s clearly amiss and the satanic-ish cult that’s hot on Breeaand her thieving team’s heels is not going to stop until they find the sacrificial(?) child.
Part Usual Suspectsand part Race with the Devil, Only the Good Survive operates on many levels, many tropes, and draws from MANY influences. Ultimately, that’s its gift and it is a curse. The film takes on a hyper-complicated tone with plenty of Tarantino-esque dialoguing and bickering. While the team of thieves (Will Ropp and Darius Fraser) turn in some funny lines and animated performances, it’s the clumsy comedic beats that undermine the film.
What could have been a terrifying satanic cult story quickly turns into a mish-mash of thoughts, ideas, and gimmicks. Whether it’s the silly sound effects or the tortured animations the film just doesn’t ever appear to know what lane it’s actually choosing. Many of the parts, including D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai‘s performance, are worthy, but taken together, well…they just don’t fit together.
Only the Good Survive premiered at SXSW 2023 and is likely Rated R.