Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: The Vicious Kind (2009)

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on May 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Vicious Kind (2009)
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

The Vicious Kind is one of those diamond in the rough indie gems that was premiered at Sundance Film Festival, went on to win a few awards within the independent film circuit, but never reached a wider audience. Such a fact is unfortunate, as Lee Toland Krieger’s 2009 feature film is one of the most powerful and realistically drawn portraitures of modern patriarchal misogyny in 21st century cinema. Krieger’s film is expertly written, offering a glimpse into the tortured soul of its protagonist Caleb Sinclaire (Adam Scott), a man whose claim from the very start of the film is that all women are whores. What separates Krieger’s film from over indulgence and heady intellectualism is Scott’s performance, which is so emotionally raw and vulnerable that the film’s themes never feel too overtly pretentious or false. The Vicious Kind is honest in its portrayal of Caleb, damning his abusive behavior towards his brother’s new girlfriend Emma Gainsborough (Brittany Snow) while retaining sympathy for his underlying humanity.

From the very first shot of Krieger’s film, the viewer is allowed a glimpse into the mind of a character that should be completely despicable and ugly, and yet retains some shred of nobility through his own sense of existential anguish. In this first shot, we are allowed a close up of Caleb’s face as he waits in a diner for the arrival of his younger brother Peter Sinclaire (Alex Frost). In this shot, we see tears begin to surface in the eyes of Caleb, which is about as close as we ever get to seeing Caleb with his guard down over the course of the entire film; the tears open Caleb’s hard exterior up to an expressiveness of all the pain and heartbreak that is subsequently divulged through flashback sequences and conversations between the film’s four main characters (Caleb’s father is played by J.K. Simmons). Such an openness of feeling is immediately shut down, however, as soon as Peter enters the diner, at which point Caleb clams up, refers to women collectively as whores, and tries to dissuade the young love that is blooming within Peter for Emma.

Because of the inclusion and focus allotted to this first shot, the rest of Krieger’s film is made more bearable. Even in the moments where Caleb is at his very worst, be it through the various incidences of verbal and physical abuse of Emma, or telling his sycophantically loyal friend to consider suicide, Caleb comes off as a protagonist rather than antagonist because the viewer is never truly against Caleb at any point in the film; you never necessarily root for Caleb, but you do want to see him get better, which he does by the film’s end. What’s more, in the aforementioned first shot wherein the underlying humanity of Caleb is exposed to the viewer by looking into Caleb’s eyes, an intimacy and connection is established between the viewer and Caleb, and the viewer becomes implicated into the very misogynistic behavior that one would otherwise condemn and admonish from a distance. Through the implication into misogyny established by Caleb’s tears, Krieg disallows any distancing between the viewer and Krieg’s subject, which is why The Vicious Kind rings so true.

It is unclear why The Vicious Kind never got any attention from the mainstream media when other indie films, such as Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, are lauded over by critics and force fed to the otherwise cinematically disengaged masses. True, Krieg’s film is much darker in tone and might be classified as a “hard to watch” film, but it’s certainly no less important or brilliant than either of the other two films mentioned.

The Vicious Kind is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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