This review contains spoilers.
Being the bad guy is not so bad when there is someone far worse than you. This sentiment is especially apparent in the 2019 comedy thriller “Villains.” Directly after fleeing from the scene of a gas station robbery, criminal couple Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe) find themselves stranded on the side of the road without gas. Their solution: Break into the next house they see and steal a car.
When the film first begins, we are exposed to the wild Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque couple of Mickey and Jules. The charm of their relationship and interactions between one another allows the audience to be drawn in and find a likeability in these bad people. Bonding together, the two have a peculiar love that is explored throughout the film.
Of course, their actions of robbery, acute substance abuse and home invasion are wrong, but they show the lengths of moral ambiguity a main character can possess while still being rooted for. In the beginning, the audience is not necessarily supporting them, but they are emotionally invested in what looks to be a telling of the duo’s unfortunate demise.
But that quick caught-red-handed moment never happens. Instead, in the couple’s criminal pursuit, they find a young nameless girl (Blake Baumgartner), only referred to as Sweetiepie, locked up in a mysterious basement. Their reactions are both wholesome and human, considering they just robbed a gas station at gunpoint.
Jules’ inviting reception to the young girl balances out Mickey’s skepticism and overall shock of the situation. It is only at this point when Jules suggests freeing her, leading audiences believe these protagonists are truly worth rooting for. They are not good people, but they are not bad people.
The tipping point in Mickey and Jules’ story is when the true villains of the story, George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick), return home and find the couple planning to free Sweetiepie. The dynamic between our protagonists and George and Gloria continuously shift as they and the audience learn more of the couple’s twisted past. Mickey and Jules’ unfulfilled lives, in their eyes, justify their inclinations towards violence. However, their experiences only scratch the surface of the horrors Mickey and Jules will have to endure.
Through many tribulations of vent climbing, lock picking and overdose drugging, Mickey and Jules find themselves close to saving Sweetiepie and obtaining their freedom. At the cusp of the two’s victorious car escape stood George pointing the barrel of a gun at Mickey in the driver’s seat. He calls for Jules and Sweetiepie to duck and accelerates into George, after sustaining a few fatal shots.
The heroic acts Mickey displays are not at all out of character because his motivations were clearly set at the start. His character, first introduced robbing a store at gunpoint, pays the ultimate price to save not only an innocent girl but also the love of his life, Jules. People are not just good or bad; there’s a spectrum for morality. While George and Gloria camp the far end, Mickey and Jules grow on the audience and move closer to good throughout the film.
The film does not justify Mickey and Jules’ crimes but finds their humanity and centers their moral compasses. The film’s message spreads farther than your typical morally ambiguous couple by extending to people with questionable pasts. If these characters are worth redeeming, maybe there are real people being counted out for mistakes they regret. People deserve the chance to show their true colors, and the protagonists of “Villains” take strides to do the right thing, disregarding their past.
Photo: Poster for “Villains” at Regal Majestic & IMAX in Silver Spring, MD. Photo by Shesh Batni.