'Villains' Review: Home Is Where The Horrors Are In This Ferociously Funny Thriller [SXSW]

Dan Berk and Robert Olsen's Villains isn't their first genre rodeo, and it shows. Their feature debut Body ignited their affair with home invasion horror, Stake Land II sucked some serious sequel blood, and their script for Don't Kill It burst with howlin' mad body-possession beats. So what makes Villains their most gratifyingly unstable and deliciously dark midnighter yet? Simplicity in casting: Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe. Maybe that's my specific answer, but I'd watch these two imitate Bunny and Clive (bargain bin versions) until the proverbial cows come home.Granted, there's far more to the morally blurry Villains worth pondering than two charismatic and devious burgeoning criminals, but try not falling head-over-heels with Berk and Olsen's daydreaming amateur fugitives.Mickey (Skarsgård) and Jules (Monroe) aren't the brightest tools in the bulbshed. Their latest gas station robbery leaves them, ironically, with no gas, stranded on some backwoods road with only a single house in relative walking distance. Mickey crowbars the door open, Jules pours a bowl of cereal, but instead of just stealing the home's ready-and-rarin' sedan as planned, Mickey and Jules venture down into the pitch-black, "definitely from a horror movie" basement. What do they find? Something disturbing enough to upend their escape plans – and that's when homeowners George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) arrive home.You're right to assume the Bible Belt couple standing before Mickey and Jules have a meaner streak than their Southern hospitality or seeming religious purity belies. George is all khakis and button-up, with a slick door-to-door salesman's pitch. Gloria has an "I do declare!" tone and sitcom housewife smile. Considering what we already know exists in the basement, George and Gloria's Sunday-best facade suggests demons cloaked in angel's skin. Berk and Olsen are so precise in juxtaposing monsters as preconceived neighborhood saints with grungy runaways we might judgmentally label as street trash.Donovon and Sedgwick bathe in menace and controlling poise for their thickly-accented, country-fried roles. Donovon's overuse of fancy pet names like "Sweetiepie" clash against his blank conscious guilt when harming Mickey or Jules, piercing through moods with ferocious captive tension. Sedgwick's sugar bomb honeysuckle wife plays domesticated damsel but harbors a sick, role-play-fantasy twistedness that Skarsgård's Mickey experiences while tethered to bedposts. (Sedgewick sensually devours the screen.) They're maniacs lifted from a bygone era, complete with a tubular television set, and one thousand percent not to be underestimated – true "villains" in every slithery sense of the word.On the flip side, Skarsgård and Monroe enter as poor decision makers who're only trying to fund their trip towards the sandy beaches of Florida. They're complete together, slathered in romantic chemistry under unicorn and pigeon masks. Not exactly "Mickey and Mallory" from Natural Born Killers when it comes to skillsets, but that's what makes their home invasion-turned-hostage-scenario so vulnerable and memorable. Good intentions may spell unintended doom, negating initial presentations in the form of wayward souls unsaveable from the brink of cash register theft. Mickey and Jules' love is so transparent – happiest when Jules' hair dangles over Mickey, creating a 1:1 sensory tunnel like a car wash – because Skarsgård and Monroe are so affably connected by unbreakable chains (metaphorically and physically). They're prisoners deserving of sympathy, with redemption to their cause.Not to mention, both actors are preciously sidesplitting as Pumpkin and Honey Bunny riffs (Pulp Fiction) who bump cocaine as "creative" stimulation, mapping breakout scenes such as "The Tongue Ring," or suppressing their sexual desires mid-illegality. Skarsgård and Monroe are a genre fan's dream duo, embodying "bad for good" so effectively.Villains locks four varying degrees of lunatic inside a pressure-cooker chamber (survivors, self-made psychos, victims of circumstance), cranks up the heat, and stashes away the key. Better yet, writers/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen revel in watching their characters fumble or misstep or crack under dreadful pressure. You couldn't cast better performances given each character's signatures, nor provoke more demonstrated extremes of spousal devotion. There are sacrificial, impassioned professions of infatuation that lead to unspeakable rabbit holes, situating vileness from sincere intentions. Villains had me at "Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe play cut-rate criminal companions on the lam," but yes, accept this confirmation: Berk and Olsen's suburban standoff is a fiendish and fantastically funny slice of "Home Sweet Home" horror./Film Review: 8 out of 10