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:: Sweet Virginia

Sweet Virginia is an ant hill of a movie. If you look underneath its still surface, you’ll find many working parts. There are many strengths, but director Jamie Dagg, screenwriters Benjamin and Paul China, and the phenomenal cast, do a very good job at subtlety concealing them; allowing the film to wash over the audience from start to finish.

Th film is abrasive at first. It acts on the audience with violence and surprises, and sets a bar for its inevitable intensity. Sweet Virginia is bound to get physical again. Jamie Dagg, an intelligent filmmaker, is aware of the power the film holds, and he understands that the best option for this secret weapon is maintaining a straight face while the audience wraps themselves into knots. Dagg has also been blessed by two exceptional lead performances by Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, Netflix’s The Punisher) and Christopher Abbott (James White, HBO’s Girls).

Motel manager Sam (Bernthal) lives a quiet life as he heals from a rodeo injury, but he becomes on edge around Elwood (Abbott). Elwood is a drifter with a menacing blank slate. He’s unusually hard to read. The audience would like to keep their distance as well because, unlike Sam, we know about Elwood’s temper and occupation. However, Sweet Virginia consistently sinks the audience further in the film’s foreboding dread as other characters are linked to Elwood’s misbehaviour.

Building tension is a special skill that takes some filmmakers years to develop, yet newcomer Jamie Dagg has perfected it, making Sweet Virginia an unsettling puzzle for viewers piecing together the history of various characters as they anticipate their next jolt.