Every once in a while a film comes along that stands out in the tide of new productions we see on a daily basis. Especially, but not exclusively in our genre, it seems to have become increasingly rare to find a piece of work that is original in story as well as narrative. Rick Laprade’s low budget independent horror film ‘Villanelle’ is such a singular piece of work, a literary horror film for an audience looking not for superficial scares but a horror that aims deeper. Come on inside and read our review.
‘Villanelle’ tells the story of a hard drinking but honorable, down on his luck, Travis Burke (Rich Tretheway). After a storied career as Boston Police Detective taking down high profile criminals, Burke has an indiscretion and is compelled to leave his life behind. Making the difficult decision to stay in law enforcement, Burke acquires the position of Chief of Police in the township of New Shoreham. This story takes place during New Shoreham’s off season. New Shoreham is a small island community that thrives with tourists during the summer months, but quickly becomes desolate the remainder of the year. Old habits die hard for Chief Burke, who is pulled back into his old school sense of justice when he’s approached by Dawn (Gillian Williams), an intriguing, beautiful, and mysterious woman who was attacked, and left for dead.
‘Villanelle’ is not only a very imaginative title for a film, it is also a well chosen hint of its story. In literature, a villanelle describes a form of poetry carrying a pattern of only two rhymes, and consisting of 19 lines, 5 stanzas of three lines and 1 stanza of four lines with two rhymes and two refrains. The 1st, then the 3rd lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, and then stanza 5 as a couplet. While the application of such a form might proof rather difficult to adopt for visual storytelling, the state of being poets most frequently expressed in this format, is not: obesession, which provides a leading motive for Rick Laprade’s film, repetitively tragic for its protagonist Travis Burke.
Consistently staying true to the title choice, the feel of ‘Villanelle’ appears, much like its plot, to be very European influenced, thereby further honoring the poetic format which first appeared in French literature around the year 1600, to only much later find its way into English poetry in the 1800s. A rather unusual if welcome approach for an American genre film. Block Island, Rhode Island, where the film is predominantly shot, provides a minimalistic and rough backdrop that perfectly creates the intended atmosphere as well as the state of mind of the main characters. In the secluded location, barren of any inspiration and distraction, protagonist Burke’s focus turns inescapably to his inner world comprised of his past and the present it has led to. His encounters with Dawn, while initially having a stereotypical Dick Tracy quality, leave not only him but also the audience in doubt of them being real. Only throughout the film do these encounters gain reality, only to again appear questionable at the very end.
Actor Rich Tretheway delivers a masterly performance as Travis Burke, a role that burdens him with portraying Burke in both the current, disillusioned state of mind as well as his former self as an energetic big city cop. Gillian Williams delivers an equally remarkable performance as the mysterious Dawn, taking it from sultry client entering the detective’s office to… well, revealing that would spoil the experience of watching ‘‘Villanelle’. The entire cast brings an intensity to the screen that is nothing short of impressive, well supported by the camera work of Nathan A. Quattrini and the edit of Nicole Chudy, who put the film together. Mike Cartier’s original score for the film rounds out the intense experience.
‘Villanelle’ has its gory sequences and, because of that, certainly does not qualify as a family film. Yet these sequences come as an inevitable consequence, never taking away from the storyline or competing with the narrative. The film would probably work almost as well without but better with them. The subject and approach taken suggest ‘Villanelle’ for a mature audience, not as much in reference to an MPAA rating but rather a grown-up mind.
When you appreciate a horror film that aims deeper, provokes thought, and bears the qualities of classic horror in the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, you must watch ‘Villanelle’. If its purely blood and gore you’re after, you’ll probably be bored during much of the film… but you should watch it anyway.