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Review: Tom at The Farm ***

1 of 1 Bleak, tender and funny
Bleak, tender and funny

There's a touch of Straw Dogs and Deliverance in this taut psychological thriller from wunderkind director Xavier Dolan. Read our review.                

This small scale but gripping psychological thriller from wunderkind director Xavier Dolan is set in rural Canada where a sociopathic, homophobic bully makes life merry hell for an innocent from the big city.

Following the death of his boyfriend Guillaume, Tom (Dolan) travels to an isolated town in Québec for the funeral and to pay his respects to grieving mother Agathe (Lise Roy), who remains ignorant of her deceased son’s sexuality, and older son Francis (Ben Affleck lookalike Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who is enraged by his brother’s orientation and more than a little anxious to maintain a more acceptable illusion for his deeply conventional mother.

With this simple set up, Dolan sets in motion a tightly-directed war of nerves where random violence is a constant threat and the country cuckoo mother and son provide both black humour and terror. The glowering, black-hearted Francis reveals his warped inner self as he slowly turns the screw on Tom. He coerces him into staying long after the funeral is over, puts him to work on the isolated cattle farm, and keeps him in check with knife edge moments of tenderness and psychosis.

The child-like title of Dolan’s film is a nice gag. Tom, sick with grief at the loss of his boyfriend and impotent in the face of Francis' behaviour, spends his days in a kind of complicit captivity. He gradually begins to enjoy his new life away from the demands of the big smoke - arm and knee deep in bovine blood and guts, he develops a tortured dependency on the climate of brutality. When he does try to escape, even nature becomes his enemy as fields of razor sharp corn crop lacerate his face.

There are terrific performances all round from Lise Roy as the elegant but deluded Agathe, Dolan, who looks like a cross between Kurt Cobain and a young Michael Stipe, and Cardinal, radiating both danger and seductive power.

24-year-old Dolan is a growing talent and he deftly teases and provokes the audience in much the same way as the vile Francis toys with Tom. It may not have the same visceral thrill but there's a touch of the creepiness of Straw Dogs and Deliverance in this effective little thriller.

Alan Corr

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