A home invader – who has a key to the front door – interrupts a married couple having sex. He ties the husband up in the bath using rope and a series of intricate knots. He ties the wife up in the kitchen – even more intricately – and tells her “You belong to me now.”

After several episodes of torture and humiliation, during which the (literally) bath-bound husband loses a body part, the softly-spoken intruder tells the wife that if she and her husband are going to make it through the weekend alive, he’s going to take over husband duties for a couple of days. What follows for the rest of the film is an uncomfortable dissection of a marriage, the unveiling of a few painful secrets, and an unexpected and violent ending that is let down by a trite climax which rushes too fast for the finish line.

Here’s a warning: if you react as badly to the first half hour of ‘Deadly Virtues’ as I did (and, judging from several reviews I’ve read, I’m not alone) stay with it and keep watching. I originally turned the screener off after ten minutes thinking this is exactly the kind of movie I hate. I’m glad I gave it another chance because there’s a lot more going on here than the first thirty minutes would suggest.

Director Ate De Jong has had a sporadic mixed-bag of a career. Probably his most successful film here in the UK was the 1991 comedy ‘Drop Dead Fred’, which was not so much funny as irritating.

There is nothing funny or irritating about ‘Deadly Virtues’, although the torture porn in the first Act did try my patience. I’ll never be convinced of the various arguments that directors and writers use to defend torture porn… that it’s a way to confront the audience / hold a mirror up to nature / make us feel the victim’s degradation… (blah blah blah). As far as I’m concerned, that’s all an excuse to pull out nasty little shock tactics because the filmmakers don’t have any imagination and when a film starts out using that device it’s pretty much guaranteed the rest of the film will be a waste of two hours you’ll never get back from your life. That’s why I turned ‘Deadly Virtues’ off the first time round.

But the reality is, once the torture porn is over ‘Deadly Virtues’ does have quite a few interesting things to say about relationships, death and sexual power. It also quite neatly inverts what most home invasion films are generally about and gives the genre a little more psychological depth than we’re used to. Screenwriter Mark Rogers structures the story well and shows a lot of skill, especially in his dialogue.

Ate De Jong also makes some interesting directorial choices. With such an obviously low budget and a story that takes place almost exclusively inside three rooms of a suburban London house, it would have been easy to make this look like a TV film. For the most part, De Jong manages to avoid that. He actually uses the limited space to his advantage.

But where ‘Deadly Virtues’ really scores is in its casting of Megan Maczko and Edward Akrout as the young wife and the Intruder. Megan Maczko is particularly impressive. She gives a brave performance without ever putting the self-consciousness brakes on, and takes a complex and dangerous physical and emotional journey over the course of the film’s hour-and-a-half runtime.

By a similar token Edward Akrout has such a quiet, surprisingly disarming screen presence that the psychology of his character, particularly the change-downs that take place in the last two-thirds of the film, is completely believable. Obviously how the character behaves is down to the writer, but a less sympathetic actor would have ruined it all.

Matt Barber, as Tom the husband, has much less screen time than his co-stars and meets all the requirements of a role that, basically, is just a cypher. He’s also saddled with the only lines of dialogue in the film that should have been cut on the grounds of “Oh please, really? He really just said that?! Seriously??!!”

There are two other people in the cast, both of whose names have first billing in the opening titles, neither of whom has very much screen-time but one of them (the better known one) still has a screen presence and the other didn’t really need to be there at all, except to serve a very hackneyed plot point.

So what’s my final take on ‘Deadly Virtues’? Despite the questionable first half hour, I’ll recommend it.

 

 

DVD Review: Deadly Virtues
Three stars for the film, but an extra star for Maczko's performance
4.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white