Chief of Police Burke (Rich Tretheway) is living out his alcohol-infused days in a small town after a high-profile career as a law enforcement officer in Boston is cut short. Once a hero, he’s now just going through the motions of staying cognizant enough to survive the down season until the tourists return to town, and crime, no matter how petty, re-appears.
Things aren’t as relaxed as they appear, however, when Burke is approached one evening by Dawn (Gillian Williams). The survivor of a brutal attack in town, Dawn needs Burke’s help in tracking down her assailant. Only there’s more to her than just your average victim, especially considering no one should’ve survived such an attack, and prior to her, no one ever had. With time running down, the duo try to piece together the mystery before the next victim is claimed.
Rick Laprade’s Villanelle straddles a number of different worlds, from the classic detective noir, to the serial killer thriller to the supernatural horror. It’s a mix that the filmmaker pulls off well, delivering a film that is surprisingly more straightforward than you may suspect when you’re in the thick of it.
I mean, the truth about Dawn alone was a surprise I was not expecting, but it also didn’t derail the narrative in the way that it could’ve. The film remains true to its detective mystery as these reluctant partners try to figure it all out before it’s too late. The mystery itself isn’t terribly complicated, no worse than something you’d see on Law & Order, but it also stays stimulating enough to pull it through.
Which could also be a bit of a criticism, as the film does have the one unique wrinkle but otherwise doesn’t deliver anything we’re not already familiar with. Again, though, it does its tale justice and delivers on the entertainment, and just enough mystery to remain intriguing, so you can’t fault it too much for just committing to what it is. I’ve seen equally intentioned films s**t the bed horribly.
Visually the film works with a darker aesthetic, both in keeping with the subject matter and the vibe of a small, off-season tourist town in the Northeast. Days are gray, nights are foreboding and other sets are appropriately creepy and disturbing. The look works for the noir, thriller and horror aspects, as well it should.
Ultimately, Villanelle is a pretty solid film. Its slight twist on the serial killer/disgraced detective vibe makes for a newer experience with a familiar narrative, but it doesn’t raise the entire film to the pantheon of great films. It’s middle tier narrative fare, but I’m thankful for that.
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