A seemingly simple tale on the surface of one woman forced to play the role of the dutiful and loving wife for the weekend whilst hubby is left maimed and tied up in the bathtub; Deadly Virtues starts out as a run of the mill home invasion film. The tension initially stems from the fear of a nasty little low budget number, although it soon becomes apparent that this is not the path writer Mark Rogers and director Ate de Jong intend to lead us down.
The drama becomes an emotional rollercoaster that touches upon the bounds of one’s tolerance, flawed psychology and the potential to manipulate the vulnerability of human nature. Of course in this prototypical story a game of cat and mouse unfolds, from which derives the suspense, peppered by the sustained threat of violence – physical and sexual.
What makes Deadly Virtues such an immersive weekend drama is the way in which it incorporates those ingredients into the narrative to immerse us into the drama that grows slowly more compelling that affords what is an intimate chamber piece the stamina to carry us on its back until the end.
The claustrophobic confines of the house that serves as the stage for the tense drama becomes a psychological and emotional labyrinth, of which we find ourselves inherently implicit in the act of intrusion as we riffle through the deepest, darkest secrets and tragedies of one couple. But this is narrative fiction and it is one of its most disconcerting and intriguing aspects to create angst ridden imaginings, as we the audience are invited by the storytellers to pry on the lives of others so that we can experience a raw primeval fear and angst – a cathartic experience in which we are entertained by the onscreen suffering. This is the true dark beating heart of such a film as Deadly Virtues, and mixed with manipulation, repression and physical and emotional abuse, it becomes a potent tale of a weekend from hell.
From the sounds of lust over marital love that guide the intruder to the marriage bed in the films opening, sex in Deadly Virtues becomes a darkly exploitative and possessive entity – the shadow identity of passion, love and affection. Peering past the veneer of respectability, civility and decency, a cynical view of matrimony and human relationships is showcased here, though there is a manipulative glimmer of optimism between the cast of players extracted by Rogers and de Jong’s gamesmanship. Whilst one would like to be optimistic and say the weekend is a singular dark chapter, it harks back to the realisation that light and shadow are an inevitable opposition in life, and as we shape the world and its stories, our destiny is an inevitable encounter with these shades.
Deadly Virtues methodical construct is hindered, though only slightly by an unnecessary scene of exposition. Rather than leaving well alone a question that the drama has made irreverent, Rogers and de Jong are tempted into the spiders web. Leaving the ‘how’ unanswered underpins the premise with a greater sense of terror, whilst allowing the intruder to be not just a predator but a twisted version of the guardian angel – a special opportunity and almost fateful occurrence that will change one marriage, and the lives of two people forever.
It embraces a raw simplicity that perhaps most remarkably never descends into gratuitous violence, where it’s every decision and action is considered and deliberate. It is a methodical piece of filmmaking that allows its narrative to be complicated by its characters emotional entanglements rather than feel the forceful hand of either its writer or director. Also it opens the door for audience’s to interpret momentary events independently that allows a pleasant opportunity for interaction between film and spectator. From the invasion of the imagination with Drop Dead Fred, de Jong has turned his eye to the invasion of the physical space whereby he has created a fascinating counterpoint in his filmmography.