Some films are good, some are bad and some are great, but there are those that can only be described as an utter delight and Villains fits that bill. It’s one of those demented, go for broke horror comedies that doesn’t always add up or coalesce it’s various tones together symmetrically but goddamn of it isn’t a blast of pitch black humour, blessed practical gore effects and four lead performances that truly push the boundaries of the craft of acting into something else. Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgard play two unbelievably dumb petty criminals, a sort of dimestore Bonnie & Clyde, who run out of gas as they’re on the run after robbing… wait for it… a gas station. Their only option is to break into the nearest, and only, house in the area to look for more options and it’s there they find a five year old girl chained up in the basement, and must contend with the homeowners, a deranged pair of loons played with American Apple Pie hospitality and charm by Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick. These two chipper darlings are as crazy as they come and have soon ensnared the two wayward youngsters in their bizarre antics, while the two race to outsmart them and free the poor mute girl below. The plot can be kind of random and wanton, but the real treasure here lies in the meticulously calibrated, phenomenal acting work from all four and the razor sharp, diabolical scriptwriting to back them up. Monroe is already horror royalty from modern classics like It Follows and The Guest, while it goes without saying that Skarsgard is squarely in the pantheon for his portrayal of a certain evil clown. They work brilliantly together because they both lose their trademark moody, withdrawn and wistful styles of acting for a bubbly, effervescent, mile-a-minute-slapstick concoction that is joyous to watch, and manage manage to find a genuine sweetness and caring for each other that shines through all the more madcap, lurid elements and makes them rough yet lovable and blessedly bumbling characters to invest in. Donovan has slowly been building a repertoire of darkly sarcastic, terrifyingly dangerous villains in stuff like FX’s Fargo, Let Him Go and more, his work here is a class act in balancing insanity, southern charm and sudden bursts of punishing sadism. Sedgwick is a natural beauty who has this spotless Miss America aura to her that she turns on its head and plays to full effect as the mot certifiably bonkers character in the story, she’s at once scary, pitiable, sultry and hysterical. This is one of those specific, special flicks like Raimi’s Evil Dead or Friedkin’s Killer Joe where the story might not always play by the rules or stay on the tracks but you really don’t care because the actors just tear the scenery to shreds, the laughs and violence come fast and furious, there are even a few arthouse flourishes sprinkled in and it’s just such a wild fuckin ride. Great film.
Have sex with the wrong person and It will follow you around, until It kills you. ‘It’ is very obviously a metaphor for STI’s but also could be seen as many different things. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a high concept, slow burn, atmosphere smoked, synth saturated piece of sheer simultaneous beauty and terror, one of the finest and most influential pieces of horror filmmaking of the last few decades. The concept here is like some urban legend you’d hear at a house party: teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with a strange boy from a neighbouring county, after which he ties her up and informs her that something, which can look like anyone, will follow her around relentlessly until it kills her, then resume following him and go back down the chain of sleeping around to whoever pissed it off in the first place. It only walks, mind you, but that’s almost worse because it comes across as more nightmarish and only prolongs the inevitable. Along with her sister (Lili Sepe) and some friends they form a makeshift posse to both outrun, outwit or simply beat the shit out of It until it leaves her alone.
This film works wonders for many different reasons other than the horror, which is chillingly effective. The concept alone works to stir up the kind of fear you don’t cultivate with gore, jump scares or cheap ghoulish tricks. This is the kind of horror that creeps up and sits down beside you during the film until you are uneasy beyond words, then gets up and follows you home when the credits roll. There are several practical set pieces involving this thing stalking them that should be used as textbook examples on how to raise hell within the genre. The performances are fantastic as well, particularly Monroe and Sepe, making these kids feel vaguely 80’s, kind of contemporary but always in a kind of dreamy, faraway laidback state that slips right in with the atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, one of the key elements here is the unnerving original score from Disasterpeace. It’s sometimes melodic and aerial, sometimes jagged and abrasive but always serves the scene and provides an auditory dreamscape for character and audience alike, giving a voice to the mute fiend that hunts them and lacing the dereliction of the Detroit setting with dread. The monster itself is representative of STD’s and that’s the main theme to read but there’s deeper linings to it as well. Her sister remarks at one point how when she was younger their parents wouldn’t let them stray past 8 Mile and how she didn’t understand why. It can almost be seen as a spectral manifestation of the unseen, unmapped, wilder areas of our urban sprawl, the mounting decay in any given city and the forces that govern it and perhaps eventually follow us back to the sanctuary of home. Whatever you choose to read into it, this is one fine example of what can be done in the horror genre and a brilliant slice of spook pie. Hell, the five minute prologue alone is already something else.
The world is currently obsessed, it seems, with 80’s throwback media, and as a die hard fan of the style, I say bring on as much of the delirious synth music, lurid body horror and deep cut, bleeding neon as possible. From Stranger Things and It Follows to The Void it’s been a heyday renaissance, and Adam Wingard’s The Guest is a bit more obscure but no less of a celebration of the genre. Working from a vague Terminator/bone smashing action vibe, it’s a neat reworking of the ‘invincible antihero thrown into quiet suburbia’ vibe, but that’s so specific that maybe it just invented a new sub-sub genre. Dan Stevens is a a steely eyed new talent who has shed his Downton Abbey pretty boy image like a snakeskin and emerged as a serpent of solid tough guy portrayals (check out his awesome bad/good guy work in A Walk Among The Tombstones), and he carries the whole flick here as the mysterious David, a strange and scary dude who shows up on the doorstep of an all American family, claiming to be the army buddy of their deceased son. There’s clearly more to the story, as the familiar formula sinks in and unwinds, but it’s terrific fun watching it all play out time and time again. He’s got a particular set of skills reminiscent of the super-soldiers of that era, impresses the family patriarch (Leland Orser) who shows simultaneous fascination and suspicion with this new dark stranger in their household. He also gets close with their daughter (It Follow’s Maika Monroe), until he’s heavily invested in her’s and the family’s life, but it’s also the one thing that’s putting them, and the whole damn neighbourhood, on a course for trouble. Death and danger seem to follow David, like when a shadowy Army spook (Lance Reddick subtly channels 80’s Danny Glover) shows up looking for answers, and despite his emerging best intentions for the family, at the end of the day he’s a volatile black ops asset that can barely control his own trajectory. It’s a slight film that breezes by and never hits too hard, but sits in the genre groove wonderfully, with all cast members giving good shout outs. Wingard made his debut years ago with an impressive little Troma-eque bizarro slasher flick called Home Sick, went on to collaborate on the famed VHS anthology series and has wowed yet again here, I hope he continues to be a wicked voice for horror. Composer Steve Moore lets the synths rip, roar and rumble for a score that’s right up my 80’s fanatic alley, and gilds the film neatly. Cool stuff.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a clever psychological horror film that has a lot of thought and emotional depth buried under the genre trappings it so lovingly clings to. Essentially a commentary about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the narrative hinges on an unseen force coming to kill a group of teenagers who are “infected” by evil spirits, who target their victims based on sexual activity. These kids know that by having sex, they’ll be “infected,” and thus prone to the dangers of these supernatural entities, and yet they do what their hormones are telling them to do even though they know they shouldn’t. The film features some spectacular stedicam work, the direction is strong and smart, lead actress Maika Monroe (also effective in The Guest) is appealing and appropriately vulnerable, the sound design is sketchy all throughout, and the reliance on intelligent scares rather than cheap shock-tactics and excessive gore kept me engaged and interested. It’s also a film that abides by the golden cinematic rule of having a fantastic opening and closing scene. This is a really good “horror” movie for people who are looking for more than just a routine slasher flick.