Xavier Dolan’s latest film, TOM AT THE FARM (adapted from the play by the same name) moves away from the overly stylish and rather indulgent style he drenched 2012’s LAURENCE ANYWAYS in and replaces this element with a tight storyline and captivating dialogue. It’s clear that Dolan understands the language of film and how to use the appropriate tools to evoke tension, sadness and eroticism not only on the big screen but successfully from us as well.
Tom (Dolan) has driven to rural Quebec for his boyfriend’s funeral and is staying at his late boyfriend’s mother’s house, where her second son Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) also happens to live. Upon arrival, he finds the house empty, but after a long drive he decides to let himself in and make himself comfortable. After an awkward introduction to the mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), things already seem a bit off. His boyfriend’s mother never knew about the relationship between the two men, let alone the fact that he was even gay to begin with, so on top of dealing with the death of his boyfriend, he has to keep his real emotions about the entire situation at bay, as to not upset the family.
While Tom is sleeping, he is abruptly awoken by a man in his room who chokes him and tells him that after the funeral, he will leave the farm and never return. What a lovely introduction to the mysterious brother. Now, without going too much into the rest of the plot, let’s just say that the abuse and torment inflicted upon Tom while he is staying at the farm quickly escalates, and he finds himself in the most uncomfortable and irrational situations possible.
Some have called director Brian De Palma derivative for his blatant use of techniques and themes attributed to Alfred Hitchcock. But whether you agree or not, De Palma has made some effective thrillers over the years. TOM AT THE FARM will probably been seen in the same way, and it is after all, Dolan’s PSYCHO, a true thriller that pays homage to the great master of suspense. Everything about this film seems to be a complete homage by a young director who knows what he is doing, and it couldn’t be more enjoyable. The brilliant score by composer Gabriel Yared (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, COLD MOUNTAIN) clearly echoes those iconic pieces of music created by long time Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Hermann, who was responsible for the thrilling music of PSYCHO, VERTIGO and even De Palma’s SISTERS. The music is one of the most important elements in TOM AT THE FARM; it gets right under your skin and chills you, making you anticipate the impending dread and the awkward moments.
Most of the the film is set on the secluded farm where Tom undergoes torment from the twisted older brother and there is a constant feeling of sexual repression that seems to fuel his anger. The Hitchcockian fight scenes (and there are quite a few of them) play out like sex scenes, teasing the audience with “will they or won’t they?” situations that are both violent and incredibly erotic in their own way. But the brother isn’t the only threat to Tom; there is also the mother, strange and recluse with a surprising violent streak. This all sounds too familiar.
Dolan himself stars as a blond Tom, another nod to Hitchcock and the classic icy-blonde female leads in his films? I think so. And if the music and the blonde-in-trouble wasn’t enough, there is a terrifying shower sequence that solidifies any doubts of the homage. Even with these blatant nods, TOM AT THE FARM is just proof that Dolan is one of the most creative and important Canadian director’s working today, whose films continually showcase his talent and passion for the art of filmmaking. It’s not always an easy film to sit through; some of the imagery is quite intense, and the film is overall quite suspenseful, but it’s wonderfully so. It’s almost a treat these days to be able to see a film that relies on dialogue and narrative rather than special effects to convey its story. TOM AT THE FARM is an incredibly effective thriller that deals with grieving and sexual repression so incredibly well, you’ll probably be back for a second viewing no matter how uncomfortable it makes you.
How many sheep would you give Tom at the Farm?