SXSW Film Review: ‘Villains’

Home invasion proves dangerous to the trespassers' health in this entertaining black-comedy thriller.

Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Bill Skarsgard, Maika Monroe, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeffrey Donovan, Blake Baumgartner, Danny Johnson.

1 hour 29 minutes

It’s the home invaders who find themselves imperiled in “Villains,” the third feature collaboration for directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. This black comedy thriller has a good cast to spark a scenario that’s intriguing enough to hold attention, if not quite clever enough to be a knockout. As an accessible, playful genre item with some familiar faces, “Villains” should have no trouble scaring up streaming and cable sales after premiering at the SXSW Film Festival.

An oddly naïf pair of felons, Mickey (Bill Skarsgard) and Jules (Maika Monroe) are introduced making their living — which is to say, donning animal masks to rob a convenience store. Bonnie and Clyde they’re not. Or perhaps they are, in that that real-life duo wasn’t particularly brainy or ambitious either, and seemingly low on alternative, law-abiding life skills. But like them, Jules and Mickey are in love, the kind of love that’s equal parts co-dependency, shared childishness, and barely-legal libido.

After their latest low-end caper, however, they realize they forgot something — namely to actually get gas at the gas station they just knocked over. With their car kaput in the middle of nowhere, they luckily spy a house nearby. There’s even a stealable car in the garage. They break into the home in search of keys, instead finding something else: a sullen, mute little girl (Blake Baumgartner) ankle-chained to a pole in the basement.

Jules insists they free her from whatever abusive predicament she’s in. But that act is interrupted by the appearance of homeowners George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick), a curiously retro couple to match their curiously retro home. Mickey’s got a gun, so this situation seems easily handled. But that dynamic changes quickly, and the younger pair soon find themselves in various forms of bondage, their future looking dim and their hosts very, very crazy.

Similar setups have been milked previously to effects more grotesquely alarming (as in the British “Mum & Dad”) or energetically exciting (Wes Craven’s minor classic “The People Under the Stairs”), and “Villains” keeps the complications and power reversals coming briskly enough to amuse. There’s more modest invention to the directors’ execution than to their script, though. What gives it zest is the work by the principals, who hit variably comic notes, though all create nicely detailed characterizations. Especially good are Skarsgard and Donovan, who render their none-too-bright hero and none-too-nice villain quite delightful in different ways — dithering short-fused trailer-park founding on the one hand, mellifluously malevolent country gentleman on the other.

Nicely assembled in all departments, the film gets a boost from Annie Simeone’s production design for the house interior, which appears to have been cryogenically frozen somewhere around 1966 — probably before George and Gloria were born, but in the logic of movies, an apt enough era for their bizarre facsimile of hyper-normality to be trapped in.


SXSW Film Review: 'Villains'

Reviewed at SXSW (Narrative Spotlight), March 9, 2019. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A The Realm and Star Thrower Entertainment production, in association with Creative Wealth Media, Bad Pitch Corporation. (Int'l sales: Endeavor Content, Los Angeles.) Producers: Trevor White, Tim White, Allan Mandelbaum, Garrick Dion. Executive producers: Per Melita, Chadd Harbold, Jason Cloth, Chris Conover, Aaron L. Gilbert, Kevin Turen, Steven Thibault, Anjay Nagpal. Co-producers: Rick Rickertsen, Mary Solomon.

Crew: Directors, writers: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Matt Mitchell. Editor: Sofi Marshall. Music: Andrew Hewitt.

With: Bill Skarsgard, Maika Monroe, Kyra Sedgwick, Jeffrey Donovan, Blake Baumgartner, Danny Johnson.

More Film

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content