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A Sleepy Thriller With A Strong Cast

Jon Bernthal (The Punisher) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Poltergeist) star in Sweet Virginia. The tense thriller is a character-driven criminal drama set in a remote Alaskan town. A menacing drifter sets the entire town on edge when three locals are violently murdered for unknown reasons. Driven by Jon Bernthal’s impressive performance as a former rodeo champion struggling to live a quiet life, this is a sleepy thriller more concerned with the inner life of its characters than the usual hard-hitting tropes found in the genre. Sweet Virginia is a thriller constructed around careful characterizations and moody filmmaking.

Temperamental drifter Elwood (Christopher Abbott) checks into a motel run by Sam Rossi (Jon Bernthal) after killing three local residents at a bar. Sam is a former rodeo champion whose commanding physical presence conceals his troubled soul. Unaware that Elwood is the man behind the murders, Sam befriends the moody Elwood over an unspoken kinship as outsiders. When Elwood learns he’s not getting paid for the murders, the suspense builds to a violent climax for everyone involved in this tight-knit community.

Director Jamie M. Dagg (River) and the screenplay by the China Brothers wring everything they can from Sam’s inner demons in Sweet Virginia. It’s a nice showcase role for a good actor and Jon Bernthal is up to the task, capably handling the lead role. Sam is running from his past and has tried keeping to himself in this remote town, sheltering his emotional pain. Sweet Virginia has a strong cast all around, including key roles by Imogen Poots and Rosemarie DeWitt. The independent, off-beat thriller’s cast is easily its strongest point.

You get the feeling that the movie’s development likely veered off its intended genre course when Bernthal agreed to star in the movie. Sweet Virginia definitely has its electrifying moments, such as the violent opening scene when the mysterious Elwood shows up and brutally murders three men in cold blood. Its terse dialogue leaves much unsaid in the narrative, as Sam and Elwood are both men of few words.

The evocative drama mildly struggles coming up with a satisfying climax

However, the thriller takes up a vast amount of screen time developing the characters currently in Sam’s life, probably to the film’s detriment. It’s understandable when the focus is on Sam’s secret relationship with a local woman, but it also feels like unnecessary texture at times in the plot. This focus would be admirable in a different kind of drama, outside the confines of the fairly standard thriller’s trappings. Here in Sweet Virginia it merely sidetracks the inevitable conflict between Elwood and his next victims.

Sweet Virginia is a bit too ambitious trying to mesh its thriller matrix with the moody character drama of Sam’s inner life. While the thriller elements bookend the movie’s plot in a most violent and tragic manner, they almost feel superfluous to the dramatic exploration of Sam’s emotional pain.

If you come to Sweet Virginia looking for a fast-paced, cleverly plotted genre thriller, you will be disappointed. But if you want a well-acted, smart character drama about the inner emotional turmoil of a man struggling with his past mistakes, this is a worthy choice. The evocative drama mildly struggles coming up with a satisfying climax for its fleshed-out characters when all is said and done. Sweet Virginia is ultimately more about the journey than the destination.


The atmospheric thriller has a moody, limited palette that emphasizes its grays and blacks. Sweet Virginia is an independent movie made on a tight budget by IFC Films. It doesn’t have the razor-sharp definition and incredible detail found in bigger Hollywood productions. Keep your video quality expectations in check. The 2.40:1 film has a gritty aesthetic that prefers darkness to perfect clarity.

This Blu-ray presentation by Shout Factory looks adequate in 1080P resolution with less-than-impressive definition. Nothing has really gone wrong in the transfer, the cinematography’s limitations are simply exposed on Blu-ray.

The 93-minute main feature is encoded in serviceable AVC on a BD-25. Darker scenes introduce slight crushing and limited shadow delineation. Close-ups rarely reveal the type of high-frequency detail we’ve come to expect from decent quality Blu-rays. The drab video has a murky contrast.


Sweet Virginia is heard with an oddly mixed 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Outside of a few select scenes, the movie is largely driven by quiet exchanges of dialogue. The soundtrack has massive dynamic range, leading to very soft dialogue and an overpowering score. If you listen at reference levels, that creates a situation where the listener has to ride the volume for balance or implement some form of dialnorm on the mix. There isn’t a problem with the bass, which drives the entire score. Your subwoofer will see a lot of work with a large soundstage.

Also included is a secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio option. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are offered in a white font that remain inside the 2.4:1 presentation at all times.


Shout Factory does include a slipcover and reversible cover for the interior art. Outside of the movie’s trailer, there are no included special features.

Sweet Virginia Trailer (01:58 in HD)

Shout Factory Trailers (05:35 in HD) – Three trailers precede the main menu: The Tribes of Palos Verdes, 78/52, and I Remember You.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Sweet Virginia
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


A tense, moody thriller led by an impressive Jon Bernthal performance with iffy A/V quality.

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The unaltered images below are taken from the Blu-ray. For an additional seven Sweet Virginia screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 10,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.


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