Quebecois auteur Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, Laurence Anyways) returns with Tom at the Farm, a dark psychological thriller set in the rural heartland of Quebec. It is based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard that Dolan has adapted for the screen alongside the author.
When Tom’s lover, Guillaume, is killed in an accident, Tom (Dolan) travels to Guillaume’s remote rural home to pay his respects to his family and to attend the funeral. However, it’s quickly apparent that the mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), had no idea about her son’s sexuality, and under threat of reprisal from Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), Tom is drawn into perpetuating an elaborate charade by inventing a fictional straight past for his dead lover.
From a straightforward premise that is uncomfortably tense, Tom’s story veers into unexpected territory, taking in themes of abusive domestic relationships, repressed sexuality and Stockholm syndrome. It would give away too many spoilers to go into details as the plot unfolds, but the only weakness of the film is occasional obscurity of character motivation, and some set-ups that don’t receive a pay-off.
Tom at the Farm is clearly indebted to Alfred Hitchcock – and it grabs such lofty ambitions with both hands and shakes out a very fine film which is every bit as gripping and suspenseful as its inspirations. There are definite nods to Psycho: Francis is a violent psychotic going mad trapped in a remote house with a love/hate relationship with his mother; and Gabriel Yared’s evocative score recalls Bernard Hermann’s pioneering string arrangement. Not only that but it has a pitch black macabre humour running through it, as does the story of Norman Bates and the lonely motel.
The driving force of the movie is Xavier Dolan, who proves yet again that he is a phenomenal talent in the three major creative departments of acting, writing and directing (he also produces). His central performance is utterly beguiling – we are on Tom’s side and following his journey from the first glimpse of Dolan, driving to an a capella version of Les moulins de mon coeur by Kathleen Fortin; his long, dyed-blond hair hiding a charismatic face and expressive eyes.
Dolan brings the best out of his cast. Lise Roy and Pierre-Yves Cardinal are all-too-credible as the mother and son with a deeply destructive relationship. The small cast and isolated location create the pressure cooker environment of Tom at the Farm, which Dolan exploits brilliantly.
As well as being a clever psychological drama with some clever twists and turns, Tom at the Farm also manages to say a lot about homophobia in rural areas, and the intense, parochial, self-absorbed lives that play out in small, isolated communities. The sense of location is very strong and another effective element of the film. Dolan doesn’t shy away from presenting farm life in its stark reality: depicting twin human fears of excrement and death in painful detail.
Xavier Dolan is one of the most exciting, inventive and original talents in the movie industry today. Tom at the Farm is likely to win him a whole new following. It’s a fascinating, unsettling story, and the kind of intricately detailed film where you spot something new with every viewing. We’re intrigued to see what Dolan does next.
Watch an exclusive clip from Tom at the Farm courtesy of Network: