Sweet Virginia is a thriller about a small Alaskan town during the aftermath of the murders that take place there. The film, directed by Jamie M. Dagg, looks at the key players in the town—including two widows of the deceased, a motel owner, and a sociopathic hitman—and how they deal with the repercussions of these deaths, and getting the things they want.
The main character Sam (Jon Bernthal) is a retired bull rider who inherits his brother’s motel after he dies. Sam’s past connects him to Elwood, one of the guests at the motel and the film’s villain; it’s a tidbit that is used to tie a few loose ends together but is also forgettable, except for the beautifully shot flashbacks interspersed throughout.
Jon Bernthal is a convincing hero. Sam is an all-around good guy, but his character is a bit of a Marty Stu. He doesn’t have any flaws and, besides the overwhelming threat of murder that looms over the entire town, he doesn’t really have any other significant external issues.
The theme of getting what you think you want is present throughout the film, but is seen more through the lens of the two widows, Lila and Bernadette. Lila is caught up in her reasoning for bringing a sociopath into her life, while Bernadette must come to terms with the guilt corresponding to her budding romance with Sam so quickly after her husband’s death.
In many ways, it is strange that Sam is considered the main character because his decisions do not really carry the film forward. And it could be argued that Lila is the true villain as she is the force that brings Elwood to the town in the first place. However, Lila’s arch feels like a b plot and though she faces her retribution it isn’t in the way one would think.
Christopher Abbott, shines in the role of Elwood. His portrayal of a sociopathic killer is spot-on, and he creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that believably creates tension throughout the film. I found myself trying to gauge where his story was going due to his erratic behavior. He was captivating and mysterious even though his desires are very direct.
Altogether the plot of Sweet Virginia is consistent, but there are a few scenes that attempt to humanize Elwood that seem out of place.
William and Brooke Blair do a wonderful job of scoring the project, and it’s one of my favorite things about the film. They masterfully incorporate the genre using string instruments. This, accompanied with the dark lighting direction, creates a haunted ambiance necessary for the film.
In its entirety Sweet Virginia does what it’s supposed to do as a thriller, captivating viewers and inciting fear.
Sweet Virginia premieres November 17th in limited release.
Written by Stephanie Francis
Stephanie Francis is an aspiring journalist with a TV addiction. She has been published in a multitude of small papers including the Gloucester Times, the Salem News and the Boston Globe. You can find a collection of her published work at adventuringsomewhere.wordpress.com. And her live tweets @stephsfrancis.
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