Following up his excellent and highly ambitious Laurence Anyways with something completely different and preceding his now Cannes award winning Mommy, Quebecois actor and filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s exceptionally creepy and emotionally powerful thriller Tom at the Farm delivers a subdued drama and suspense thriller about an outsider, a fracturing family, and lost love, and it’s all set on a farm pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It feels a bit like a lark for the filmmaker, a rest period before gearing up before another major work, but despite it being his most genre based and probably accessible film to date, it’s another highly accomplished work from the Dolan.
Tom (Dolan) has just lost his lover at the age of 25. He travels out to the country for the funeral and to spend time with the mother and brother who never knew their departed son was gay. Forced into keeping up the ruse of just being a close friend by the psychotic and bullying brother Francis (an exemplary Pierre-Yves Cardinal), Tom finds no real room to grieve. He pities the grieving mother, and while he wants to tell the truth and get out of town, the charismatic and violence prone Francis keeps finding increasingly unhinged ways of stopping Tom’s departure.
Tom finds himself stuck not only in an inescapable situation that keeps bringing him dangerously into his lover’s fucked up family matters, but also within his own grief. A lot of the fear comes from how Tom seems adrift in his own world. It’s a gorgeous world around him, but sometimes a farm is just a farm. The land around him reflects his, and Francis’, emptiness to frightening degrees. It’s a sad place where melancholy can only grow to dangerous degrees. A sequence where Tom goes into town for a beer at a local pub and learns about Francis’ backstory (set brilliantly to Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night”) is one of the best, most menacing moments in a film in recent memory.
A psychologically fascinating look at how closeted homosexuality and the lies surrounding it can make grief even harder to deal with, Dolan also examines with great poignancy how violent homophobia is always masking something darker and sometimes even more insidious. It’s the kind of thriller that hasn’t really been made since the 1960s, and certainly not with this type of subject matter. Dolan delivers typically strong direction, a twisty, thoughtful script, and even a daring physical performance in the lead. If this is what a Dolan B-side looks and sounds like, he still has a heck of a career ahead of him. I hope he decides to make another genre effort like this again soon because he’s quite great at it.