Every now and then, cinema gives us certain independent drama films that are so psychologically thought-provoking and occasionally intense that they would stay in your head for days afterwards for you to take in and process. Sweet Virginia is like one of those films, although it’s nowhere near as exceptional as some other intense indie thrillers like Wind River. However, though it is gripping in certain areas, it's not a completely satisfying experience.
This is, without a question, a very powerful film with a lot to admire and appreciate; most notably, the cast and what they all offer to the movie. The Punisher himself, Jon Bernthal, is a great mesmerising lead with real weight, determination, and intensity behind his eyes, while also having a raw vulnerable side to him that makes him all the more compelling. Christopher Abbott delivers an excellent portrayal as the chillingly unhinged and psychotic Elwood, and Imogen Poots proves once again to be an immensely solid actress.
The narrative is well-constructed and taught, while also being rich and deep with its exploration of the intricacies of complex, difficult relationships with people who are more than what they initially appear to be. It's a detailed story that unfolds well as it goes on and it certainly delivers just how a good thriller should do. There are intricately detailed identities for each of these characters that help ground the film in gritty realism and the film is very well-directed and structured by Jamie M. Dagg, however, the pacing is slow and somewhat drags the film in a lot of areas when it needed more pace to it. With so much to depict and exploit on screen, accelerating the pace would have added more dramatic tension, in turn heightening the excitement factor, and thus would've made the film more engaging. Addressing certain aspects of the story, too, would've made things more comprehensive.
Despite its flaws, Sweet Virginia is a suspense-filled, tension-built thriller with a palpable sense of dread and gloom felt throughout that adds to the strong performances, as well as the drama. It does feel somewhat underdone and is perhaps too consistently low key for this reviewer's tastes, but deserves a watch when you are able to.
SWEET VIRGINIA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JAMIE M. DAGG / SCREENPLAY: BENJAMIN CHINA, PAUL CHINA / STARRING: JON BERNTHAL, IMOGEN POOTS, CHRISTOPHER ABBOTT, ROSEMARIE DEWITT / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 15TH