Reel Review: Looking For A Good Halloween Movie? Skip ‘Villains’

‘Villains’ just hit theaters just in time for Halloween season. Unfortunately, it will have you screaming in frustration instead of terror. ‘Villains’ claims to be a horror comedy but the only scary thing about it is how hilariously lousy it is. The film is written by Den Berk and Robert Olsen and funded by producers Trevor White, Tim White and Allan Mandelbaum of Star Thrower Entertainment, and Garrick Dion of The Realm. It was picked up by Gunpowder & Sky after its debut at the SWSX Festival. This is indie film made its debut on September 20th only for select theaters, which is probably for the better. While ‘Villains’ strives to be funny and scary crafted storyline, failed genre attempts, and surface-level characters are neither.

We meet the ‘Villains,’ the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe), as they’re robbing a convenience store. After committing their first heist, the couple’s victory trip to Florida comes to an abrupt halt when they run out of gas. It’s not clear whether they break into a nearby home to find shelter or steal goods, but once they discover the homeowners’ dark secret, they know they’re not safe there. The criminals become the victims when they are held captive by homeowners George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick). Their goal becomes escaping while also saving the little girl held captive in the basement, Sweetiepie (Blake Baumgartner).

While the premise is quirky and has some potential, the delivery is sloppy and disappointing. The film compromises commitment to the horror genre in order to push forward a lackluster storyline. Plot does not makes a horror movie interesting. We all know most of the characters will end up trapped in a dangerous scenario and die. No spoilers there. Horror fans tune in for strategically placed gore-y bits like chopped off fingers or disturbing creatures popping up out of nowhere. In horror, if a character makes an illogical choice like hiding in plain sight or antagonizing their captor, the viewers accept it in hopes for a satisfying scare. The horror isn’t even being sacrificed for a worthy plot. In addition to lackluster spooks, the characters act unrealistically irrationally with no satisfying pay-off to boot. Mickey is introduced as someone ready for a life of crime, yet he chickens out of shooting the homeowners who catch Jules and him breaking into their home. There is no logic to that other than a set up for George and Gloria to capture Jules and Mickey and move the plot along. This is just one of many events clumsily forced into the storyline as a failed attempt to create an intriguing plot. Even the introduction of the characters’ names is forced with a cheesy “We didn’t even introduce ourselves. How rude of us,” type line. Failing to create an interesting storyline forced the writers to use using cheap tricks like characters monologuing their backstories unprovoked and a Deus ex machina to wrap up the story. These tricks felt desparate and leaves viewers unsatisfied.   

Unfortunately, the film’s comedic moments do not make up for what it lacks in horror. ‘Villains’ starts off weakly using bad jokes as a launch pad. When Mickey and Jules first break into George’s and Gloria’s homes, Mickey asks, “notice anything?” to which Jules responds, “the fruit is fake.” Even Jerry Seinfeld couldn’t give that joke a humorous read. From there, the film soars to a new height of cringe with uncomfortable lines like, “I know I was a bad boy, but I promise I’ll be a good boy if you give me the chance, mommy.” From ripping out tongue rings and incest play, the writers use shock humor like a blunt object and bang it over viewers’ heads. The movie almost parodies itself with how tacky these moments are and are received with the same laughs reserved for Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’.

The film challenges viewers to rethink society’s perception of a “villain.” At first the druggie young adults appear to be the villains and the homeowners seem like the perfect 1950’s style family. ‘Villains’ subverts viewers’ expectations when the druggie couple becomes victims to the homeowner’s cruelty and captivity. ‘Villains’ is clearly going for the tried and true message “don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, this message is drown out by the film’s blatant desperation to be quirky that that the impression it leaves is, “baby dolls are the enemy and cocaine is the solution.”

Sometimes movies that suffer in plot thrive in character work. This is not the case for ‘Villains.’ Despite its incredibly small cast, the writers still struggle at creating well-developed characters. Each of the four leads are devastatingly surface level. Mikey is the smarta** and bada** leading man who curses way too often and always has the solution, which isn’t saying much being that he’s full grown man who thinks he can make a profit collecting seashells on the beach and selling them. Jules is the misguided damsel in distress whose love for cocaine and maternal instinct are what give her the power to prevail. George is the sociopathic salesman who keeps his dark side hidden with Southern charm. Gloria is a psychopath whose desire to be a mother is what drives her to insanity. These characters don’t develop any further. The performances are ok at best and at times overacted. This is unimpressive considering the actors had ten rehearsal days which is much longer than a typical indie film’s process.

The most disappointing aspect of this movie to me is how much of a feminism fail it is. Whenever there is a problem in this movie, it’s always the woman’s fault. Every single time. Then their male counterpart has to swoop in, fix everything and save the day. They attempt to make Jules the savior, but the only times Jules makes any of the moves is when Mickey is incapacitated in some way. Both female characters are over-emotional and driven by their maternal instincts. This film doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test, it adheres to archaic female tropes.

‘Villains’ achieves its goal of being outlandish but not in a good way. Its storyline is sparse with tacky gags to fill the voids, it fails to satisfy in either of its genres and its characters are merely stereotypes. If you’re looking for a film with real spooks this Halloween, leave ‘Villains’ off your watchlist.