By Don Simpson | November 16, 2009
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writer(s): Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Brittany Snow, Adam Scott, J.K. Simmons, Alex Frost
The Vicious Kind finds the men of the Sinclaire family at odds. Caleb (Adam Scott) is a highly volatile personality who hates and distrusts all women (having just been dumped by his girlfriend). Peter (Alex Frost), the younger Sinclaire brother, is the complete opposite of Caleb – he is meek, gentle, kind and loving.
The film starts with Caleb driving Peter to their childhood home (in rural Connecticut) from college for Thanksgiving break (because train service is shut down due to a terrorist threat); but before going home they first have to pick-up Caleb’s college girlfriend, Emma (Brittany Snow donning jet black hair), from her parents’ house (I’m still confused why Emma was at her parents’ house, rather than on campus if she went to school with Peter).
Not only is Emma of the gender that Caleb dislikes and distrusts (and has the tendency to be verbally abusive to – Emma is no exception), but she also bears an uncanny resemblance to the ex-girlfriend that completely destroyed Caleb’s personality by dumping him. This adds a significant amount of tension during the drive home – further fueled by the threesome being scrunched-together in the front seat of Caleb’s pick-up truck…and the stick shift conveniently positioned between Emma’s thighs.
Caleb and their father, Donald (J.K. Simmons), have not spoken for several years (even though they live within 2 miles of each other); so Caleb drops Peter and Emma off at the end of the driveway and speeds away. Even this early on we sense that Emma is concerned about the situation she finds herself in.
Donald is as smitten with the dark angel, the black-haired Emma, as everyone else is (we sense that Caleb is enamored with Emma as well, though he has a funny way of showing it). It is also worth noting that Peter and Caleb’s mother died about 10 years prior – and the events surrounding her death is what put the family on edge.
Emma keeps running into Caleb, and each encounter bursts with tension. Caleb has not been sleeping, so his personality becomes more and more manic as the film progresses. Caleb spirals out of control, as Emma and Peter attempt to navigate the early stages of their relationship and as Donald attempts to keep his family together.
Caleb’s character controls the film, and thus the tone of The Vicious Kind is incredibly…well…uncomfortably vicious. There is very little good that happens in the film. We know Peter is a good person, but only because he is apparently very meek and naïve (and a virgin). We are forced to doubt Emma’s goodness because some of Caleb’s arguments about her actually make sense (she cheated on her last boyfriend to be with Peter – not always a good sign of a trustworthy mate). Donald just seems a little off – as though he is hiding some deep dark secret.
The level of the tension throughout The Vicious Kind is so high at times, that it is not hard to suspect that the film is going to erupt into a violent bloodbath. Though the tone was unsettling to say the least, it was extremely effective – for which writer-director Lee Toland Krieger deserves much credit.
I enjoyed the performances in The Vicious Kind – especially Scott, Snow and Simmons. But there one thing that keeps The Vicious Kind from being a great film – and unfortunately it is the conclusion. The path of Caleb and Emma’s relationship is not only inconsistent with both the characters’ personalities, but it seems insulting to women.