The defiant writer/director with the amazing name Dutch Southern gave the best introduction I heard at SXSW this year for his “Only the Good Survive,” calling the film punk rock in a way that could only happen in Austin. Conceived and shot there, Southern went as far as to proclaim that if you don’t like his movie, you don’t like Austin. Well, I like Austin. And I like his movie. So maybe he’s onto something.
“Only the Good Survive” is one of those films that won’t leave too many viewers in the center when it comes to its appraisal. You either get on its quirky wavelength or you don’t. For me, Southern’s blend of Texan anarchy, classic thriller storytelling, and quirky sense of humor clicked from beginning to end. This is a movie that isn’t going to work for all but will REALLY work for some, and I think Southern is perfectly fine with rewarding a specific audience instead of trying to appeal to everyone.
Sidney Flanigan of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” plays Brea Dunlee, a young woman who is introduced as the only survivor of something awful, being interviewed/interrogated by an officer named Cole Mack (Frederick Weller). And so the film has an unreliable narrator structure that gives it a very different energy than a traditional thriller as Mack tries to pull out what happened from Dunlee’s brain in clever, playful ways. As this “The Usual Satanists” gets deeper into its twisted tale, Weller and Flanigan playfully bounce back and forth, having a blast with Southern’s clever, referential dialogue.
Oh what a story Brea has to tell. It starts with a chance meeting of a cute boy named Ry (the great D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai of “Reservation Dogs”), who brings her into a plan with his a guy named Erve (Will Ropp) and some charismatic muscle named Dev (Darius Fraser). Ry stumbled upon some rare coins in the home of an elderly couple, and brought in Erve and Dev to help steal them. Maybe Brea could be the lookout? Of course, the trio of robbers stumble upon something VERY different from coins in the house, and all Hell breaks loose, maybe even literally.