The Vicious Kind

“Wear your grudge like a crown of negativity.” Holding a grudge is one thing no one wants to do, but everyone ends up doing it – sometimes to an unnecessary degree. In The Vicious Kind, Caleb (Adam Scott) deals with multiple layers of grudges as he meets his younger brother’s girlfriend, Emma (Brittany Snow).


Peter (Alex Frost) and Emma are visiting Peter’s father, Donald (J.K. Simmons) for Thanksgiving. Unbeknownst to Emma, Peter’s brother, Caleb, is the most cynical person on the planet and hasn’t spoken to his father in over eight years. Once they are home, Caleb tries to protect his brother from his “promiscuous” girlfriend, but ends up falling for her in the process.

Nothing about the Sinclaire family is nuclear. Peter, the youngest, is shy, calm and generally an all-around nice guy, which is shocking considering the environment in which he was raised. His father is a warm man to strangers albeit misogynistic and blunt, but with Caleb, he is curt to a fault and holds some dirty secrets from his sons. Meanwhile, Caleb, our most prominent protagonist, is just a terrible person. He is insulting beyond the point of humor. He can’t keep a stable relationship, even with a prostitute. He hates life and there is just something about him you can’t help but like – I haven’t even begun to analyze what that means about me and don’t really want to.

From the opening lines, Caleb, mostly due to Adam Scott, is an excellent character. He is clearly fighting some demons in his soul that moved in long ago and set up permanent living arrangements. He is a narcissist who dabbles in self-loathing. One minute he’s taking pictures of himself having sex with said prostitute; the next scene he’s crying in a corner. As the film moves, we see him tormented by his feelings for Emma, a doppelgänger of someone who hurt him previously. Throughout, Adam Scott* is tremendous showing Caleb’s emotions from anger to guilt to love to depression. His performance starts the film with a bang and keeps it going with the help of the always-great Simmons and pleasantly surprising Snow.

Simmons has a prominent role only with regards to the story. He doesn’t get much screen time, but when he does, Donald takes over the scene – except with Caleb. Meanwhile, Snow – looking great with jet-black hair, it has to be said – does an unexpectedly good job portraying Emma’s jumbled past with alcoholic parents and a reputation she may or may not deserve. She also does well as a young girl thrust into an incredibly awkward family dynamic that Peter clearly did not prepare her for. The weak point in the cast is Frost, but that is more a result of Peter being a weak character, than his performance.

I admit my fervor for this film may be slightly inflated, and I am sure there are plenty of negative things to say about it, but I couldn’t find any since I was so engrossed in the story, the perfectly frustrating ending and Caleb’s borderline dual personality (really, the scenes with Caleb and Emma or Donald are great). The dark humor, which is actually hilarious, is like the film: not for everyone, but it was right for me.

*For Scott fans, think of this role as Derek from Step Brothers mixed with a more cynical Henry Pollard of Party Down.

  1. I’ll have to check this film out 🙂

  2. Adam Scott and JK Simmons?
    Sign me up!

  3. This looks great! I can’t believe I haven’t heard about it until now and I am sure I am not the only one. based on your review, Caleb seems like Holden was in Catcher in the Rye, rude to everyone including a prostitute and can’t seem to find joy in anything. It has been a while since I read the book so I am sure there are differences but it is what your review reminder me of. Great review!

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