A consistent and not unreasonable beef about B.C. film is that so much of it looks like a second-rate cousin to the Hollywood mainstream. A feature like Jamie M. Dagg’s beautifully paced Sweet Virginia is the exception that proves the rule.
The Toronto-based filmmaker impressed with last year’s tight, Laos-set thriller River, and that promise is scaled up big-time with Sweet Virginia. Where River was breakneck and insistent, Sweet Virginia takes its time to let the mood set in, appropriately for its tale of small-town lovers, losers, killers, and femmes fatals. When the superattenuated buzz of low-key tension is broken by violence, it’s explosive and dirty.
A fabulous Jon Bernthal (Wind River) leads as a former rodeo star sidelined by serious injury and now running a motel in shitsville Alaska, a decent but broken man locked in an affair with a woman (Rosemarie DeWitt, La La Land) whose husband dies in a bizarre shooting massacre in the film’s opening scene.
It gives nothing away to note Girls star Christopher Abbott’s mesmerizingly original performance as the low-rent hitman responsible, stuck in that hotel for the rest of the film, bugging out while he waits to get paid. He’s unreal, but everyone steps up here, including Imogen Poots, inside a melancholic neonoir that shuns Coen-esque flash and irony for a kind of ambient sadness, where everyone is haunted by cycles of violence and driven by deep emotional wounds, including a psychopath who yearns for connection on his own bizarre terms.
It’s all choreographed by a filmmaker in decisive command of his craft, and with the suss to recognize downmarket Hope, B.C., as a terminal point in this outstanding film’s psychic geography.
Sweet Virginia screens at International Village on September 29 and the Rio Theatre on October 1 and 7.More