Imagine 2014 Review: DEADLY VIRTUES: LOVE. HONOUR. OBEY Is Lean, Mean, And Surprising
One of the titles world premiering at the Imagine film Festival Amsterdam this year is Ate de Jong's Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey., his first film since the costly flop The Bombardment two years ago. This new film is a lot leaner and meaner, though, a home invasion thriller with some surprises up its sleeve.
In it, a young couple gets assaulted and bound by a vicious stranger on a Friday night, and he proceeds to torture them throughout an entire weekend. The audience is left wondering the same thing as the victims: What the hell is wrong with this guy? What does he want? And will he end up killing them? The plot thickens when, halfway through the weekend, the intruder suddenly changes his approach, and starts to talk instead of punish...
Let's get this out of the way first: I hate torture-porn. To me, sex and violence in films are like pepper and salt in cooking: undeniably useful ingredients in nearly all dishes, but not pleasurable when digested solely by themselves. Watching humiliation and/or bullying makes me feel uncomfortable as well.
So rest assured that during the first half hour, I was wondering what the hell I was doing watching this film. Scenes of torture and anguish are mixed with sleazy depraved ones, like when the intruder finds a vibrator in a drawer, and then sniffs and licks it. Indeed, I was not the only one wondering: several walk-outs happened during my screening, especially when the torture intensified.
But just when you expect the raping and killing to start, as constantly implied by the intruder, the film changes pace. The intruder finally gives Alison, the wife, an objective to fulfill. It seems, obviously, to be an impossible one, but he allows his victim to make a real effort, and to reflect on what's happening to her. It is not a big twist or a switch, just the plot doing a slightly different thing. After all, the film starts with the quote, "When The Pupil Is Ready, A Teacher Will Appear", so some sort of epiphany or brainwashing is only to be expected.
But Deadly Virtues still manages to build towards a strong, impressive ending. The whole finale perhaps falls into place a bit too smoothly and too glibly, as some events happen that couldn't possibly be predicted by the characters as is necessary here, but this is forgiven as it doesn't harm the film's consistently set-up world.
More importantly, the ending doesn't betray what has come before, or who the characters are. And this is a good thing, because this is very much a character-driven affair. When the shocks stop and the audience finally gets to catch a breath, it becomes apparent how great the acting is by the two-and-a-half leads. Matt Barber is mostly sidelined as Alison's husband Tom, but does fine work here. The main fire, however, is happening between Edward Akrout as the intruder, and Megan Maczko as Alison. Both are fantastic, but Megan takes the gold in an incredibly difficult and punishing role.
Outside of The Netherlands, director Ate de Jong is best known for his comedy Drop Dead Fred, a title popular enough in the UK to allow him this rebound after the critical and financial pummeling he received in his home country in 2012. It is a great revenge, with him showing the world that with a good script he can deliver a great film, and get great performances out of his actors. Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey. is planned to be the first of a possible seven films, each being a counterpoint to one of the deadly sins. If the other six are as good as this one, I'll gladly collect the whole series.
But this one was obviously not for everybody. Walkouts and all, the audiences at Imagine Amsterdam awarded these Deadly Virtues with a 6.43 out of 10, at least a full point too low in my opinion.