From its familial tensions to low-key dramatics about the power of healing, The Vicious Kind operates according to a rather stale Amerindie playbook. It’s the sort of Sundance-approved movie that takes place in a stereotypically bleak rural locale, while an acoustic guitar twangs mournfully over the soundtrack. But there are some not-inconsiderable advantages to the conservative tack taken by first-time writer-director Lee Toland Krieger, and his superb ensemble cast is afforded enough complicated emotional and psychological situations to deliver performances that breathe with thorny, knotty life.
Exhibiting the nasty verbal bite of executive producer Neil LaBute’s work, Krieger’s tale focuses on a cuckolded motormouth misogynist (Scott) who reluctantly returns home and begins falling for his younger brother’s new girlfriend (Snow) over Thanksgiving weekend. A typically sticky love triangle is destined to develop, yet the familiarity of this redemption saga occasionally doesn’t lessen what the director accomplishes through sheer technique. Krieger’s sturdy craftsmanship saves the material from its tendency toward overstylized flourishes or sentimental storytelling flimflam. Instead, the director creates an impressively muted tone of resentment and regret—one that feels perfectly suited for Scott’s evocation of injured, vitriol-spewing desperation and Snow’s matching portrait of confused desire.