Only the Good Survive is the type of film that delights in the fact that it never follows the genre path you think it should. At one point the question is even asked if the story being relayed is “a horror or a comedy?”, and writer/director Dutch Southern, in the most nonsensical, unpredictable fashion, makes sure to never directly answer if it’s either or both.
Given that it is so outlandish Only the Good Survive doesn’t always balance its tone, with animated on-screen visual quirks and 80’s style horror gore feeling a little at odds with each other, but Southern is unapologetic in his approach and there’s something worthy of celebrating a differing take on a narrative that may feel already tried and true.
The narrative on hand does start to get more convoluted as it continues on, but before the twists and turns spin us near out-of-control, we meet Brea (Sidney Flanigan, having considerably more fun than she did in her breakout Never Rarely Sometimes Always), a seeming drifter in the midst of an investigation (Frederick Weller enjoying himself as an of-the-older-generation sheriff), hoping to explain her part in a recent crime. The crime is an unbelievable turn of events – at least how Brea tells it – and it’s said unbelievability that keeps the film from ever succumbing to predictability; it may not always be tonally consistent, but you’ll never go searching for imaginative execution.
As Brea relays how her role as “the lookout” in an attempted breaking-and-entering went south, the film takes us through how her seeming naivety made her the perfect fourth wheel in a heist surrounding a collection of gold coins that have a market value of $18 million a piece. Her sweet beau Ry (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), wanting a better life for the two of them, thinks he has the perfect criminal companions in Erve (Will Ropp) and Dev (Darius Fraser) – and, no, that isn’t short for Deverly or Devil – and before long the quartet have devised their plan on how to secure these lucrative coins; both Ropp and Fraser lap up their roles as a type of queer Bonnie & Clyde partnering, adhering to some of the film’s more violent and romantic sequences.
As the film travels forward, so too does its inexplicable nature. What seemed like a somewhat straightforward criminal comedy starts to mate with danger and horrific plot arcs, leading to some truly bizarre imagery that includes a masked cult and a neglected infant, with Brea transforming before our very eyes to where her role as a narrator is brought into question. Only the Good Survive is a film that can’t be trusted, and it’s clear that Southern is in complete control of proceedings – even when they are spiralling wildly out of such.
Only the Good Survive won’t be for everyone, and I’ll admit it took me a bit of time to gel with its fast-and-loose (and illogical) temperament, but once I surrendered to the madness of Southern’s intentions, Only the Good Survive sliced me with its bold creativity, nasty genre spirit, and teen movie mentality.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Only the Good Survive is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival coverage, running between March 10th and 18th, 2023, in Austin, Texas. For more information head to the official SXSW website.