Movie ReviewsSweet Virginia – A Thrill-less Thriller

Keith NoakesDecember 3, 2017

Here’s a film that I never heard about until just recently. Sometimes these films could be hidden gems but other times you discover that they’re hidden for a reason.

Synopsis: A mysterious stranger sends shockwaves through a close-knit community in this nerve-jangling slice of raw suspense. In the wake of a triple murder that leaves the residents of a remote Alaskan outpost on edge, tightly wound drifter Elwood checks into a motel run by Sam, a former rodeo champion whose imposing physical presence conceals a troubled soul. Bound together by their outsider status, the two men strike up an uneasy friendship—a dangerous association that will set off a new wave of violence and unleash Sam’s darkest demons. (IFC Films)

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Christopher Abbott, and Imogen Poots

Writers: Benjamin China and Paul China

Director: Jamie M. Dagg

Rating: 18A (Canada)/R (United States)

Running Time: 93mins


For showtimes and more, check out Sweet Virginia on movietimes.com.

Based on a film the starts with three people being murdered, things looked promising but they began and pretty much ended there. The story is about a pair of men living in a remote Alaskan town, a former rodeo champion now motel owner named Sam (Bernthal) and a mysterious drifter named Elwood (Abbott). Both showed signs of having troubled pasts, however, the characters were so underdeveloped to the point of not caring for either of them.

This is because nothing really happens through the first two thirds of the film. Sam lived a normal life of solitude and anonymity, running his deceased brother’s motel. He also had a complicated romantic relationship with a recent divorcee named Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt) while mentoring a young employee named Maggie (Odessa Young). Both were equally underdeveloped characters, making all of them difficult to care about. They seemed to only be there to give Sam something to do. This did not change and was even worse with Elwood.

Elwood had been hired by another woman named Lila (Poots) to kill her husband. Once he got that out of the way at the beginning, not much happened for him either. The film made it very clear that Elwood was a strange character who was easily prone to violence, however, that was it. He had a few outbursts, however, they did not amount to much. He was also a difficult character to care about or even take seriously as everything about him was cringeworthy. It was clear that he and Sam were going to meet at some point and the story would pin them against each other in some way but this didn’t even happen which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise at this point.

The film often made you feel like something was going to happen by creating forced suspense either by the score or how a scene was shot, however, it lacked any danger whatsoever until something finally happened but by then, it was hard to care. The film is relatively short, clocking in at just over 90 minutes, which made the meandering worse, leaving the action so close to the end. Some would argue that it flies by, however, the meandering made the film feel longer.

The best part of the film was the performances but they were all okay at best. Bernthal was okay as Sam in an underwritten role that didn’t ask that much of him. He was likable but there wasn’t enough to care about. Abbott was terrible, however, it’s unclear whether or not that was more due to the script and direction than his actual performance. His dialogue, as mentioned, was so bad that it made his cringeworthy performance even worse. It seemed like he was trying too hard to be weird and psychotic that it didn’t work. The other performances were okay, however, they were just too underdeveloped to care all that much.

Overall, this was a thrill-less thriller lacking in every aspect of its execution. Underdeveloped characters and nothing happening during a meandering first two thirds make this a boring watch. Bernthal was okay but there just isn’t enough to care about.

Score: 4.5/10

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  • Keith

    December 4, 2017 at 4:28 PM

    That’s a bummer. Haven’t seen it but I was curious. Don’t think I’ll get in any hurry to see it.

    • Keith Noakes

      December 4, 2017 at 6:57 PM

      I didn’t hear about it until a screener became available. Thought I’d give it a chance because of Bernthal.

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