*. I’ll begin with a couple of things that I’ve talked about before but that I’m no closer to understanding.
*. First: I started off my notes on Don’t Breathe by saying how much of its basic plotline was borrowed from Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. Which I didn’t see anything wrong with, since on the whole Don’t Breathe wasn’t a bad little thriller in its own right. What surprised me was that on the commentary track no mention was made of Craven’s movie as either inspiration or source. Indeed there was no mention of The People Under the Stairs at all. I likened this to listening to the commentary on the Quarantine DVD where nobody mentioned Rec, the movie it was a direct remake of.
*. Well, Villains is a movie very much in the same line of descent: the home invasion gone terribly wrong when it turns out the home is owned by psychopaths who like to keep prisoners chained up in their basement. But nowhere on the DVD commentary do co-writers and directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen mention either The People Under the Stairs or Don’t Breathe. I’m not saying they were just ripping those movies off, but it seems uncharitable not to refer to them in some way.
*. Second thing I don’t understand: the Black List. This is an annual survey of the “most-liked” motion picture screenplays not yet produced. So I guess getting on this list increases the chance of your script being produced, though commentators have also said that a lot of the scripts on the list are in fact still making the usual rounds, and some of those listed were clearly properties that somebody was going to make (like the ones based on bestselling novels).
*. What surprises me is when the script itself is not very good. I mentioned this in my notes on The Hitman’s Bodyguard, where the generic, blacklisted script was apparently transformed quite a bit. I could say the same for other Black List titles like Dirty Grandpa, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, The Equalizer, Hotel Artemis, or The Lodge. There are, of course, plenty of hits and misses, but clearly making the List is no guarantee of quality. As we see again here. Villains isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not original at all and the script struck me as totally perfunctory. The heroes end up at the bad guys’ house because that’s where their car runs out of gas? They weren’t really trying there, were they?
*. The cast hit their marks, which were hard to miss. Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe are passable as the couple of inept burglars on the lam. I kept thinking I’d seen Monroe before, but I had to do an Internet search before I could place her as the girl being followed in It Follows. Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick, however, steal the show as the creepy couple. He’s all smarmy in an ascot and she has dead, shark eyes that are the scariest thing in the movie. Which, in turn, leads me into a final observation.
*. Is Villains supposed to be scary? Is it a horror movie? A black comedy? Berk and Olsen talk a bit about tone on the DVD commentary but I had trouble figuring out just what they saw that tone as being. The opening scene involves the burglary of a convenience store and it seems mainly to be played for laughs, with the bumbling crooks wearing silly masks and not knowing how to operate the cash register.
*. From there we get a romantic interlude as their car runs out of gas, and then we’re into the crazy house with the little girl chained in the basement. This is good because it introduces Donovan and Sedgwick, but not so good in that these two are presented as obscure targets of some kind of dated satire. Are they just wealthy boomers with pretensions to gentility? It seems to me they’re characters we might have seen in the same movie made in the ’80s. Even the religious hypocrisy plays stale. We get it. Rich people are phony. Behind the façade of genteel manners lies unspeakable cruelty and evil. That’s not an original observation to be making in 2019.
*. Things play out very predictably, which is another problem I had with the script. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I found myself two steps ahead of every plot point here. As soon as Mickey mentioned Jules’ tongue piercing I pegged it for Chekhov’s gun. We were going to be hearing about that again. The attempts at escape and the rescue fail play out pretty much as expected. Sweetiepie will be given her moment. It was all so obvious I was only left to wonder why, when Mickey tells Jules to duck, he doesn’t do so himself.
*. Then a rather anticlimactic, downbeat climax that leaves Gloria (Sedgwick) hanging while sending Jules and Sweetiepie to Florida to sell seashells by the seashore. It’s very sentimental, again, but then just to spin things around we get a jacked-up, animated credit run that sends us flying off in another direction.
*. I came away confused. Berk and Olsen mention not wanting to make a movie that was “too dark,” but rather “a fun thrill ride.” If that was the intention I don’t see how they succeeded, as one thing this movie surely is not is fun. It just feels like a bunch of old pieces stuck together into something not really new. Well enough done, especially given the budget, but hard to get thrilled by.