Saturday, 28 October 2017

Sweet Virginia (2017 EIFF 11)

This low-budget, Coen-brothers-like, dark indie thriller was one of the more pleasant surprises at the EIFF, primarily because of the way it kept me engaged from the first minute to the last, not least because its focus is entirely on its very compelling cast of characters (and because it has a marvellous sense of atmosphere, which fuels the constant tension). 

At the centre of Sweet Virginia is Sam (Jon Bernthal), a motel owner in a small Alaskan town, a town that is suddenly rocked by an after-hours triple-murder in the local bar. We know who did the deed (Elwood, played by Christopher Abbott) and soon learn why, but it’s a mystery to the locals, including Sam, even though the eccentric Elwood checks into his motel shortly after the murder. 

The lack of mystery for the viewer might limit one’s enjoyment in watching a thriller, but didn’t bother me much because I enjoyed the focus on how the fascinating characters interacted with each other. The big mystery to me, which did limit my enjoyment of the film somewhat, was where the police were in all this. We hardly see them at all in Sweet Virginia, as if a triple-murder is no big deal to them, making for an unusual type of small-town crime thriller (which isn’t all bad, but the lack of credibility was distracting).

Other characters of note are the wives of two of the victims, women who didn't appreciate their husbands enough to do much grieving: Lila (Imogen Poots), who finds herself in way over her head, and Bernadette (Rosemary DeWitt), who is having an affair with Sam. All of the acting is very good, though it’s Bernthal’s performance which stands out. 

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of intelligent suspense films that focus on characters and dialogue instead of action. Sweet Virgina is such a film, and Jamie M. Dagg’s directing keeps the film moving at exactly the right pace, helped by the stunning cinematography. There could have been more character development (although there was just enough to let viewers put pieces into place themselves, which I rather enjoy) less violence (too much to expect), and more police (just for credibility’s sake), but this is my kind of thriller. A solid ***+. My mug is up.

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