It’s official. Bill Skarsgard and Maika Monroe are Hollywood’s hot new cinematic couple that needs to be in everything together. At least they should be. Having just played at Cinepocalypse in Chicago, Villains is an uproarious horror-comedy that will have you falling in love with the pair, if you haven’t already…
…Brought to the screen by the talented writer/director combo of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen (The Stakelander), Villains is a wonderfully whacky flick in which goofy, criminal couple Mickey (Skarsgard) and Jules (Monroe) are on the lam for a recent robbery. Out of gas, they break into a home to steal a car, only to find themselves confronted by a ruthless pair of psychos, and the dark secret they’re keeping in the basement.
Villains kicks off to a great start, throwing us into the middle of a Pulp Fiction style robbery being conducted by Mickey and Jules, as they pump each other up and then proceed to rain chaos on a convenient store while wearing Pigeon and Unicorn masks, respectively. The scene is comedy gold, and sets the stage for the over-the-top, clever, adrenaline fueled film to come. Berk and Olsen feel in tune with their inner Tarantino’s, and there’s no doubt in my mind that in some ways, Villains is inspired by the work of one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. Villains is like if Tarantino did a remake of The People Under the Stairs, but with less scares and a hell of a lot more laughs. And it’s all in the dialogue, and the way the cast rolls it around on their tongues like a juicy slice of filet mignon.
Berk and Olsen have a knack for writing quick, witty banter, and each member of the cast, especially Skarsgard and Monroe, are even better at bringing it to life. Mickey and Jules love each other so loudly, so passionately, that you’d have to be a monster not to root for them. Seriously, I love these characters. Like a kinder, modern day version of Bonnie and Clyde, Mickey and Jules are both exceptionally funny as the sort of assholes who toss bowls full of cereal onto the floor because it’s gone stale, while simultaneously endearing us to them with their compassion for others. Monroe and Skarsgard are kismet, with a charming chemistry that is undeniable. Each and every scene with these two together is fireworks. Skarsgard and Monroe bring such overwhelming passion to their roles in Villains, that they give off the same glow as all of the best “film couples”, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. I could watch an entire series of Mickey and Jules and never get bored.
Villains, to some degree, is about true love and what we’re willing to do for that one person that makes everyone else disappear when they’re around. And so it only makes sense that Mickey and Jules meet the older and much more psychotic versions of themselves in George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick). Bringing their own sort of fire to the screen, Donovan and Sedgwick are the perfect foils for Monroe and Skarsgard, oozing intimidation and an unsettling tension as characters who seem stuck in the 1950s, with a touch of southern charm themselves. What the filmmakers and cast do so well in Villains is that, even though we’ve seen this type of story before, the writing and performances are on another level, which makes for characters that are consistently surprising, and so much fun to watch.
In fact, Villains is one of the most fun films you’ll watch all year. Shot with a 50’s aesthetic and acting as a clever mix of cartoony comedy and unbearable tension, Berk and Olsen clearly had a precise vision for Villains, and execute it without missing a beat. This film is as hilarious as it is thrilling. Few films mix comedy and terror as well as Villains. And it all goes back to the characters. So that I don’t oversell it, I should mention, there is very little in Villains that I would call “horrifying”, but through a combination of Mickey and George’s sly wit and Jules and Gloria’s powerful spirit, we never know what we’re going to get from them, filling every exchange to the brim with tension. Again and again, Villains finds ways to shock the audience with a clever twist of the screw. All four of these characters are expert manipulators, turning Villains into a cat and mouse game of wits, with two passionate couples engaged in survival mode.
I would love to say Villains is flawless, and it’s certainly near perfect, but if it’s missing anything, it’s a better understanding of George and Gloria. As I mentioned, there’s very little that is actually horrifying in the film, which hurts the way we view the couple. Yes, we understand they’re unhinged, yes, we understand Mickey and Jules are in trouble, but the filmmakers fail to establish early on how truly dangerous the couple really is, which could’ve gotten viewer’s hearts beating that much faster. Granted, the tension gets our pulse going throughout, but we never have a clear idea of who exactly this couple is, are they killers, why are they killers, etc. But, this is a small criticism, and one that hardly affects the overall enjoyment of the film.
More important than the comedy, or the horror, or the few, beautifully gruesome effects, Villains will make you believe in true love again by showing the brightest, and darkest, sides of it. Don’t miss this film. Just be ready for your jaw to hurt after from smiling so damn much.
By Matt Konopka