By Joseph J. Airdo

Late, famed film critic Roger Ebert once said each film is only as good as its villain. “Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph.”

Ebert would likely have loved the new dark comedy “Villains,” as it blurs the lines between who we consider true villains. As a result, not only are there plenty of tension and laughs but there is also a great deal of genuine shock and awe, drawing you to the edge of your seat with each passing scene. There are no gimmicks here—just good, old-fashioned, inspired storytelling that features more gray area than boring black and white.

Bill Skarsgard—who is most widely known for his portrayal as Pennywise in “It”—and Maika Monroe play Mickey and Jules, lovers who rob a series of convenience stores before heading southbound for a fresh start in Florida. However, the one thing that they forget to pick up at the last convenience stores they hit is a full tank of gas. Therefore, when their car dies in the middle of nowhere, the duo begins to panic—until Jules spots a lone mailbox that means a house is nearby.

Once at the house, they look for a new set of wheels but end up having to break into the empty home to locate some keys. As they explore the residence they unexpectedly come across a dark secret, just as the seemingly sweet-as-pie homeowners (Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick) arrive. Mickey and Jules believe they have the upper hand but quickly discover that their hosts will do anything to keep their secret—or them—from getting out of the house.

Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, “Villains” is a fun little independent film that almost feels as though it could be successfully adapted into a stage play. The surprises themselves are extremely exciting—which is why this writer refuses to reveal the aforementioned dark secret or how things ultimately play out as a result—but the film’s four leads really bring the whole thing to life and set it on fire.

Each of the four actors is remarkable but Skarsgard shines brightest, showing off his comedic chops in a role in which his face is not hidden with a bunch of makeup. His frantic portrayal leads to a lot of laughs, and it is difficult not to root for Mickey and Jules—even if they do start the movie off as pretty shameful human beings.

I kept waiting for something supernatural to happen and spoil the fun, as is suggested by the initial encounter with the homeowners’ secret. Fortunately, “Villains” plays out in a much more straight-forward manner—except for when things get fuzzy as to who we should consider the heroes and who we should consider villains.

There are a couple of loose ends that Berk and Olsen fail to tie up before all is said and done but that does not stop the viewer from having an absolute blast along the way. “Villains” may be a small and brief motion picture, but it packs one heck of an entertainment punch.