A young man reeling after his lover dies travels to a remote farm to pay his respects to the family and finds himself in a twilight zone of anger, grief, and denial, and seemingly powerless to leave, in Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm. Made between Laurence Anyways and Mommy, this adaptation of a play by Michel Marc Bouchard with a screenplay by Dolan and Bouchard, is a compact, terrifically creepy psychological thriller made all the more disturbing by Tom’s passivity and its seemingly serene bucolic setting.
Tom (a bleached blond Dolan) is in for a couple of shocks when he arrives at the farm. The first is that apparently his lover, Guillaume, never told his mother Agathe (Lise Roy) that he was gay. Instead, she rails against the absent Sarah, the woman she believes to be her son’s girlfriend. The second is Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal), the brother Guillaume never told Tom he had, a glowering brute that, as becomes apparent at the funeral, the entire town avoids. The relationship between Francis and Tom is dangerous from the start. Intimidating and terrorizing others are as natural to Francis as breathing, and Tom is his special project. That there really is a Sarah (Orphan Black’s Evelyne Brochu) further complicates matters.
Why Tom puts up with what Francis dishes out is part of the mystery. There is little hint to his and Guillaume’s backstory, beyond the fact that at least one of them was good at keeping secrets, and little to indicate what Tom is like in his daily life in Montreal when his judgment is not clouded by grief. For now, he is rooted to the spot. He could flee from Francis’ bullying and brutality, but it is almost as if he is mesmerized by the man’s cruelty. And despite Francis’ evident homophobia, there is an erotic charge between the hulking farmer and the petite city slicker that makes the situation that much more combustible.
Despite opening the play up to encompass the entire property (including a cornfield where the withered plants’ leaves are razor-sharp) and forays into town, the overriding feeling of Tom at the Farm is one of claustrophobia, which only amps up the tension as Tom becomes more and more ensnared into this unhealthy household. Dolan sets a dolorous tone from the opening scene as Tom drives to the farm and an a capella version of Michel Legrand’s “Les moulins de mon cœur” (better known to English-speaking audiences as “The Windmills of Your Mind”) plays on the car stereo, while Gabriel Yared’s evocative score continually amps the tension. Ray, who originated the role of Agathe on the stage, and Brochu are both terrific, but the drama hinges on the relationship between the two men. Yves-Cardinal strikes the right note of danger as the unsettling, possibly unhinged Francis, and Dolan did not cast himself purely out vanity or economic necessity. He’s pitch-perfect as a man out of sorts and out of balance seemingly reacting to his situation out of pure, if faulty, instinct.
Like Joel Edgerton’s recent The Gift, Tom at the Farm is a corker of a thriller that extracts chills from the collision of personalities and the machinations of an unstable individual. These are dramas of the everyday, the mundane, and all the more distressing for it. What happens to Tom could happen to anybody.—Pam Grady