A refreshing crime thriller with a rogue streak
Film festivals are so often about hyped titles, either the ones discovered along the way or the ones snagged by buyers Before the running times of the festivals mean that more modest titles that want the same benefits are drowned out in the PR frenzy. Only the good survive, Dutch Southern’s debut film, is one of those movies that’s included on a smaller scale but no less remarkable than the big hype beasts overly spoiled by the limelight. Of course it will be overlooked. This is a crime.
But not a crime like the one Southern unwinds from the first to the last frames of the film. It’s wise to keep perspective—perspective is key, after all Only the good survive, which begins with an animated sequence that blends images and provides some understanding in the voiceover by Brea (Sidney Flanigan), who we meet sitting on the wrong side of the table in an interrogation room after experiencing her candy-coated reverie hat is interrupted by Sheriff Cole Mack (Frederick Weller). More than once Mack reminds Brea that she is not under arrest and that she has no record; He just wants to understand what happened at the remote farmhouse that she and her friends tried to rob and what happened after they fled the place.
Talking about the “what” is difficult. Only the good survive, like several other great films similarly doomed to neglect in SXSW’s film programming, is best viewed coldly, with the vaguest sense of what is based on a lean logline. The facts are simple: we know that Brea, her boyfriend Ry (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Ry’s sidekick Erve (Will Ropp), and Erve’s friend Dev (Darious Fraser) moved into Mr. and Mrs. Henderson’s home (Pat Turner and Carol Hickey) in search of rare, valuable coins. We know they found something different, we know they ran like hell with the “something else,” and we know the boys didn’t pull it off. Remember: only the good survive.
We don’t know much more, and neither does Cole. He is the film’s defining figure, an unctuous, condescending lawman whose intentions seem good and true; He wants to know what happened to Brea, Ry, Erve and Dev and he thinks Brea won’t tell him everything that happened at the Hendersons.
But Southern embeds Only the good survive the source of the film’s animated elements from Brea’s point of view. Scenes between Mack interviewing Brea and the events he interviews her about: how she met Ry, how Ry met Erve, how Ry even found the Hendersons’ coins in the first place, how Erve came up with the heist and used Dev as her muscles and how all her plans brought her into conflict with a dangerous cult. (The “cult” clue isn’t exactly fatal, it’s mentioned in the synopsis.) Everything about the cult, especially whether the cult even exists, is best discovered by the viewer.
Southern is a bit of a rascal. He teases playfully Only the good survive‘s unveils a fusion of hot fuzz And Scott pilgrim vs the world with movies like The long night, Satan’s slaveAnd Satanic Panic. Making the jump that Wright counts among his influences seems fair, but there’s a bit of Aaron and Adam Nee’s 2014 Tom Sawyer riff band of robbers also in his work, plus a dose of Joseph Kahn and Adi Shankar; Southern co-wrote a ‘somber reinterpretation’ Power Rangers briefly back in 2015, along with Kahn and James Van Der Beek, and the mischievous energy of this project finds its way into Only the good survive‘s frame.
The film spurns authority. No one who is responsible for anything here can be trusted. As the narrative ends, we see Southern confirm our suspicions and paranoia, an unshakable feeling that the only people worth trusting are Brea and the gang. Even then, Erve and Dev don’t quite openly reveal their personal information. We hear about it from Mack. Brea is groping in the dark with us. But she’s smart and maybe has her own secrets, and that’s the essence of Only the good survivethe rebellious spirit.
Southern orchestrates its broader storyline—the failed heist, the chase, the cat-and-mouse games with the cult, the occasional ritualistic stabbing and beheading—as a ride through the American backcountry and deserts, where youth are doomed to to wither away in the grip of an oppressed cultural desert. But the film’s best segments only involve Flanigan and Weller bouncing off each other in a single room, with no other cast members to consider.
Flanigan made an impression on Eliza Hittmans never seldom sometimes always, her first starring role. lighthearted, Only the good survive is a departure in the sound department. But she still brings the same seriousness to Brea and still has a blast sparring with Weller, who in turn exudes Mack’s oily delight in showering Brea with pop culture references from before her while denying her the full extent of what he is white . Southern shows his best efforts as a director in these moments, demonstrating that “most” direction isn’t always “best” and that the filmmaker’s most important tool is a good eye for camera placement.
Granted, the fundamentals of Southern’s filmmaking will likely come second in most viewers’ appreciation for his goblin sense of humor and brisk pace. Only the good survive stands alongside other offerings in the SXSW lineup – Daniel Goldhaber How to blow up a pipeline comes to mind immediately – as an expression of disgruntled youth; In Southern’s film, age limits shape the conflict between its antagonists and protagonists. The incumbent generation exploits the next generation, because why give up the perks of the ruling class when you can increase your hegemony by exploiting them? Only the good survive takes the message seriously. But it doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s how Southern keeps the story fresh — even new.