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Movie Review: Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe Face Unsettling “Villains” in New Horror/Comedy

Thursday, September 19, 2019 | Review

Starring Bill Skarsgård, Maika Monroe, Blake Baumgartner, Jeffrey Donovan, and Kyra Sedgwick
Written and Directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen
BRON Studios, Star Thrower Entertainment, Creative Wealth Media Finance, and The Realm Films

Young, in love, and on the run – from Bonnie and Clyde to Wild at Heart, there’s just something about outlaw couples at the movies that keeps on fascinating us. Enter Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) who, complete with dreams of escaping to Florida, and a bag of stolen money, are the runaway couple at the centre of Villains – the new, distinctively horrific take on the lovers-on-the-run subgenre from directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen.

After their car runs out of gas on their last robbery, Mickey and Jules find themselves in the remote, middle-America homestead of George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick), looking to steal the gas they need for their final run for freedom. As may be expected, they find that they’ve only walked into more trouble – and that even if George and Gloria’s cozy homestead may appear less suspicious than Frank-N-Furter’s castle from Rocky Horror, the same track record of roadside assistance applies.

Berk and Olsen – working from their own script – amply provide the sort of mounting tension that this premise requires, as they gradually pull back the layers of George and Gloria’s façade of pseudo-southern hospitality. Starting in the basement – where Mickey and Jules stumble on a young girl (Blake Baumgartner) chained up – the film’s horror comes to consume the entire home and threatens to swallow the film’s sympathetic robber couple whole.

Taking place almost entirely in this single location, Villains creates an impressive, viscerally unsettling experience with limited resources. More than anything else, it stands as a testament to the talents of the quartet performers at its centre. Skarsgård (who entirely abandons the glowering menace of Pennywise for the free-wheeling, gullible charm of Mickey) and Monroe (who here, as in It Follows, is unbeatably convincing at conveying the anxious, panicking dread of someone who realizes – possibly too late – just how resourceful they need to be) craft a relationship which feels genuinely lived-in.

The sympathy their characters inspire, however, only enables the film’s other couple to seem all that much more sinister. Jeffrey Donovan’s work as George – who best personifies the film’s uncanny ability to lurch from comedy to outright horror – is only outdone by Sedgwick’s Gloria – whose suburban-housewife-by-way-of-Baby-Jane is uncanny albeit undeniably pathos-inducing.

Tying each of these performances together is Matt Mitchell’s cinematography which – as the screws are tightened – gets closer and closer to the actors, trapping them – and us – in tighter and tighter frames. Unlike the robbery of its central couple, Villains is tight, efficient, and undeniably effective and its goal – and, unlike the house it is set in, is a trap absolutely work entering.

Villains hits theatres on September 20 – but find the trailer below!

Sarah Woodstock
Sarah is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, with a love for writing about and researching anything horror-related.