French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has proven that knows how to create incredibly stylish films which drip with sophistication and emotion. He takes a different direction with Tom at the Farm, a psychological thriller as unnerving as it is clever. My review after the jump.
Tom (Xavier Dolan) travels to the farmlands of Quebec to attend the funeral of his boyfriend Guillaume. Upon arriving unannounced at the eerily empty farm, he waits for the family to appear. To his shock, the family know not of his existence, nor of Guillaume’s sexuality. Tom also learns that Guillaume has a brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who lives with their mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and runs the farm. While he initially wants to leave straight away, Tom is persuaded to stay for a while to comfort Agathe and help Francis on the farm.
We soon discover that isn’t right with this family and the longer Tom stays there, the further he becomes entrapped in their odd world. The locals are frightened of the family and taxis won’t even go down the farm’s drive. Psychological mind games, grief, lies, drugs and alcohol muddy the waters and it’s hard to tell what is real and what is not. What is obvious is the fear. Fear lurks in the barns, in the floorboards and cupboards of the home and in the fields which surround it.
As a fan of Dolan’s previous films (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways) I was completely surprised by this work. This is the first time Dolan has adapted an existing work (the films is based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard) and the first time he has tackled a film which does not have a love relationship at its core. The result is outstanding – an incredibly taut psychological thriller with depth and intensity. The film is also a stunningly painful exploration of grief and the guilt that we can feel when a loved one dies. Tom is eaten up by guilt, he hates himself and his inability to save the man he loved is wrecking him. It is gut-wrenching to watch. Unfortunately for Tom, his vulnerability makes him a perfect target for someone well-versed in the art of coercion.
Academy Award-winning composer Gabriel Yared’s score wraps the film with tension and spine-chilling unease. Couple the score with the remote location and mind-games and the result is an incredibly unnerving and often confusing experience. Dolan doesn’t give the audience all that much information and we are thrown through the ringer with Tom. The taut, unsettling atmosphere reminded me greatly of Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic, particularly as Tom is as isolated and as confused as Alicia was in Silva’s chilling thriller. The farm, a classic horror film setting, is almost a character in its own right. Razor-sharp corn fields, rundown sheds and an old creaky homestead are essential in creating the film’s intimidating climate of fear.
While the film’s third act takes the story to increasingly bizarre places that don’t always work, you’re already so invested in Tom’s safety that you can forgive Dolan for his twists and turns. Dolan’s music choices are usually spot on, but I found the music [other than the score] to be slightly overbearing here.
In a way what excites me most about Tom at the Farm is that it shows that Dolan has range. While I love his ultra hip and utterly gorgeous films, this film reveals that there is so much more to come from the impressive filmmaker. How exciting.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writer(s): Michel Marc Bouchard (play), Xavier Dolan (adaptation)
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Evelyne Brochu
Runtime: 102 minutes