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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Tom at the Farm’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Tom at the Farm'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“Tom at the Farm”
Dir: Xavier Dolan
Criticwire Average: B

Xavier Dolan’s fourth film “Tom at The Farm” was made the year before his most recent film “Mommy,” but is only now getting U.S. distribution. Based on the play of the same name by Michel Marc Bouchard, “Tom at the Farm” follows the titular character (Dolan) as he drives from Montreal to a rural town for the funeral of his recently deceased boyfriend Guillaume. Once there, he realizes that no one has ever heard of him nor knows the nature of his relationship with Guillaume. Dolan then introduces Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who has a vested interest in keeping Guillaume’s sexuality secret from his mother, so he forces Tom into silence and keeps him as a willing hostage at the farm. Francis makes Tom play psychosexual games with him as the two engage in a homoerotic Stockholm Syndrome-type situation. Like all of Dolan’s films, “Tom at the Farm” is divisive, but for those who lock into it, it deftly explores the clash between fear and desire, and the various traps and games we play in order to defer our feelings. Others admit that Dolan is talented, but find “Tom at the Farm’s” narrative too cryptic or abstract for the film to have any punch, with one critic claiming that no one in the film behaves “like a real human being.” However, if you’re a fan of Dolan’s previously released work, this is a must see on the big screen.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Matt Brennan, Slant Magazine

If the film fails to resolve the challenges thrown up by its ingenious premise, turning in the final act toward more rudimentary thrills, “Tom at the Farm” nonetheless seizes on a bracing, specifically homoerotic expression of fear and desire. For gay men, after all, the “body genres” of horror and pornography both employ the unstable codes of body language: Culturally and sexually, the pleasures of playing with the expectations of conventional masculinity are legion, and yet, aimed at the wrong man, the longing glance or flirtatious smile can spell immense danger. It’s along this tetchy boundary that “Tom at the Farm” constructs its finest sequence, a tango in an empty barn that edges up to the fulfillment of the main pair’s mutual interest and then pulls back — or out, as the case may be. Merging the ache of arousal with the pang of suspense until they’re almost indistinguishable, Francis and Tom’s pas de deux thus registers as yet another microcosm of Dolan’s forceful, even extravagant, work. It’s not a climax, exactly, but it left me spent. Read more.

David Ehrlich, Film.com

Rife with the psychosexual tension of a Claude Chabrol potboiler and touched by the stranded unease of Li Yang’s “Blind Mountain,” Dolan’s thriller is a slippery little thing, so unstable that it occasionally even switches aspect ratios when Tom and Francis are tussling, as though the two men only achieve a clear sense of purpose while physically pursuing one another. Dolan is clearly smitten with the idea of putting his own twist on the genre, and the greatest takeaway from this staunchly opaque effort might be that the emerging director can put your heart in your throat as capably as he can tear it out of your chest. If “Tom at the Farm” is occasionally impenetrable as a drama, it’s seldom less than gripping as an exercise in suspense, especially when Dolan’s precise sense of timing revitalizes otherwise familiar moments – the film’s sole jump-scare completely embarrasses the obvious tricks of most contemporary horror directors simply by having the patience to wait a beat longer than expected. Read more.

Alan Zilberman, The Washington Post

Despite the setting’s banality, the farm is a foreboding place, and Tom cannot find any respite from Francis’ psychological abuse. Adapting the film from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, who shares a screenwriting credit, Dolan strips his characters of self-awareness, leaving only raw, sexually charged histrionics in its place. Dolan also returns to the un­or­tho­dox framing of “Mommy” at one point. When Tom is beaten by Francis, the frame narrows so that it only takes up a narrow sliver of screen. “Tom at the Farm” offers little relief from the gnawing suspense among its few characters, and does not explain their motivations, either. It is unclear whether fear or boredom leads to Tom’s eventual escape, and Dolan’s ambivalence over his main character’s mental state means we care little about him, too. Read more.

A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club

Ultimately, this could just be a case of an unadaptable play. Bouchard’s most experimental touch was having Tom speak every inner thought aloud in conversation — a gimmick that boldly emphasized the discrepancy between who he is and who he’s forced to pretend to be in mixed company. Dolan ditches that device, which is understandable but also detrimental, as doing so denies us the insight into Tom’s sometimes baffling decisions. Furthermore, the filmmaker’s attempts to “open up” the play with field trips to a doctor’s office, gas station, and dive bar don’t just rob the material of its essential claustrophobia, they increase the absurdity of Tom’s refusal to extricate himself from a sticky situation. (Only on stage, perhaps, could one accept a version of this story that doesn’t end, very early on, with the young man getting the hell out of dodge upon first opportunity.) It’s possible to enjoy “Tom At The Farm” as a grotesquely exaggerated vision of unwilling, then willful repression. Just don’t look to it for recognizably human behavior. Read more.

Jordan Hoffman, New York Daily News

The vibe up at the farm goes from odd to terrifying rather quickly. Dolan shoots scenes of hosing down slop or visiting empty bars with a heightened existential dread. There’s a great tone derived from natural lighting and a disquieting orchestral score. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make up for how our main character and visiting supporting players behave so illogically. It’s like they’re not real human beings. The movie can’t decide if it’s a drama about homophobia, a horror-tinged thriller or psychological surrealism. The cross-pollination makes for some nice-looking scenes. Ultimately, though, there’s a crop failure. Read more.

Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post

Dolan’s idea of how to build suspense involves shadowy close-ups and keeping his scene partner out of the frame. One theme seems to be self-hatred, but Dolan’s performance, and his camera’s eye, keep insisting that Tom is pure fascination. The real thrills consist of one monologue brilliantly delivered by Manuel Tadros as a bar owner, and most of Gabriel Yared’s old-school orchestral score. Read more.

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