Tom at the Farm – A sinister, atmospheric thriller from director Xavier Dolan

Xavier Dolan is that rare breed of filmmaker – a writer-director whose strong, confident voice can be heard throughout every moment of his productions. In short, he knows what he wants to say and he isn’t afraid to say it. Dolan’s bold vision continues to his latest film, a strange, eerie tale called Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme, 2013). That Tom of the title (played by Xavier Dolan himself) is a young man who visits said farm for the funeral of a close friend. The farm is owned by Agathe (Lise Roy) who still grieves for the loss of her son, but her other son Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) seems less troubled by his brother’s death. More mysteries are revealed as Dolan’s story starts to unfurl – how much does the family know about the son’s death? And what secrets does Tom himself hold? Dolan keeps the audience guessing throughout what is an affecting and suspenseful story and what also marks Dolan’s first step into more genre-driven filmmaking.

Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme, 2013)

For his fourth feature Dolan has created a superb and atmospheric tale, one with an almost Hitchcockian tone to it and not just because of that large dose of mystery. Dolan’s versatile direction creates a claustrophobic feeling throughout Tom at the Farm, perfectly reflecting how all the characters feel trapped in some way (their work, lifestyle, grief and so on). Even Dolan’s beautiful, expansive landscape shots feel ominous and threatening, as if hiding the very secrets that Tom wants to uncover. He ekes out the tension with long aerial shots of cars driving past vast empty fields, then cranks up the pace at other times such as a sudden and dramatic dash through a corn field, a method that creates a reinvigorating, edge-of-your-seat film experience throughout.

Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) shows Tom (Xavier Dolan) around the farm...

That claustrophobia extends to the plot, Tom unable to leave the farm because of his fear of Francis, who wants him to stay and keep Agathe happy with a lie he must tell. However later it becomes obvious that Tom is also being kept there for a different reason that is of his own making. Whether he knows it or not, Tom becomes increasingly drawn in and enraptured by the family’s rural life and their (strange) company, even as he becomes more suspicious about the secrets they hold. Building on this idea of entrapment Dolan and other writer Michel Marc Bouchard (who wrote the original stage production of this story) further use their impressive script to discuss such other diverse themes as loss, family relationships and in particular love and obsession, making for a brooding and at times poignant film that pulls the viewer in (similar to how Tom is drawn into the farm) and never let’s go until its thrilling and disconcerting ending.

While Tom at the Farm is thought-provoking and moving, it also has a wicked sense of humour. There are plenty of moments that are satisfyingly and eerily funny, Dolan using a macabre sense of humour to highlight the ridiculous situation Tom finds himself in. One such example is a bizarre and beautifully shot tango dance that almost seems to have dropped in from another feature, yet at the same time perfectly encapsulates the peculiarly uncanny tone of Dolan’s film. As such Tom at the Farm seems to straddle many genres (drama, thriller, comedy) and it is all the more exciting and gripping for this.

Xavier Dolan in Tom at the Farm

A beautiful use of imagery, style and pervading themes create an atmospheric film filled with brilliant, absorbing central performances, in particular Lise Roy who is perfectly wounded and frail as the grieving mother, Dolan who is (as always) great as the tragic yet charismatic hero and the incredible Pierre-Yves Cardinal who somehow manages to make the vile Francis both a disturbing Bogeyman and an odd Prince Charming all in one. Even without the mystery aspect of the plot this is still a mature story with an oddly relieving sense of dark, twisted humour. With each of his films that pass it shows not only the extent of Dolan’s talent in every aspect of his writing and filmmaking, it also proves that Dolan is continuing to grow and evolve with every one of his productions. And if Tom at the Farm is close to a perfect thriller, then it will be interesting to see if his next feature, Mommy (2014), will be even more of a masterpiece.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on August 8, 2014.

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