Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Our final film of the virtual 2022 Sundance Film Festival, dark crime thriller Emily the Criminal, thankfully closes out our festival experience with a big taser-injected bang! The always-reliable Aubrey Plaza plays Emily, the titular character, a woman whose past continues to cause problems. Convicted of aggravated assault back in 2015, Emily’s record follows her wherever she tries to interview for a decent job. Just when it seems like she has no other options, swimming in debt, Emily gets an offer too enticing to resist. Make $200 in an hour! What could go wrong?

A lot, it turns out. Sons of Anarchy actor Theo Rossi plays Youcef, Emily’s new boss. Youcef certainly talks a big game—“you won’t be in danger or put others in danger, but you will be breaking the law,” he promises. In a nutshell, this new “job” is partaking in a credit card scam, buying big-ticket items with faux credit, and pocketing the change for the risk. Emily is good at it too, prompting Youcef to gradually increase her participation in the score. Emily the Criminal is part heist movie; every single interaction Emily has in trying to steal what she wants put me on edge.

Naturally, a life of crime, even what once appears harmless, reaps vibrant rewards, and equally dangerous consequences. Pepper spray protection will not be enough to shield Emily from those who want what she has. Youcef gives her a taser for defense, and boy does she get to put it to good use. The deeper Emily falls down the rabbit hole, the more badass she becomes. This may be Aubrey Plaza’s best performance to date, as she is forced to juggle numerous shades to Emily’s personality. The evolution of her character is the heart of the film. Blossoming from innocent lawbreaker to cutthroat diva, Emily is one truly badass dame.

Emily the Criminal makes the gradual progression from nail-biting caper to full-blown intense thriller, similarly to its lead character. The final act is terrific, as writer/director John Patton Ford builds to a satisfying release. Emily just wants to be free, but will it be that easy? This is more crowd-pleasing thriller than darkly downer drama, and as far as I am concerned, that is the coolest way I could have envisioned my Sundance experience this year coming to a close. Fans of Aubrey Plaza, your holy grail has arrived.

Emily the Criminal screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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