Moving back in with your parents can be hard to do. It comes with a modicum of humility and confusion. You’re an adult: How did it get to this bad? Why can’t you find a job? You have a degree, but are driven back home until you get back on your feet – how long will this last? Richard Bates Jr. pushes the answers to these questions into extreme, often very funny, territory in Suburban Gothic, his sophomore feature following the grisly Excision.
His latest film – which made its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival – deliberately favors humor over horror this time around. But it’s not the pitch black laughs that came in Excision. Rather, Suburban Gothic presents a lighter, zany voice that is consistently amusing and strange and filled with the creative use of toe nails, ascots and floating child heads. It gets a bit caught up in itself at times and misses some moments for self-reflection and to catch its breath, but I was entertained nonetheless.
Matthew Gray Gubler plays Raymond, a young man with an MBA who is fresh out of college and looking for an “upper management” position. He can’t find one, however, and is forced back home to live with his dad (Ray Wise) and mom (Barbara Niven). His father thinks Raymond is, more or less, a douchebag – so there’s always some hilarious friction there (Wise is spot-on with his line deliveries every single time). His mother, meanwhile, is seemingly happy Raymond is back.
Being home opens Raymond up to some things about his past. He begins to get flashbacks to a time when he used to see ghosts and, soon, he’s wrapped up in a supernatural mystery involving the corpse of a little girl that is found in his backyard. Essentially, Raymond is a grown-up version of ParaNorman. Hell, even his hair seems like a natural evolution of that animated kid’s messy style. But the problem with Raymond is that, yes, his dad is a bit right: Raymond is a douche. A funny one, though. The way he is written, he’s always “on.” He’s got a snarky response to everything…and I mean everything. The character is at a low point in his life, but there doesn’t seem to be any direct, serious threat weighing on his shoulders beyond the bully from his high school days that threatens to fight him. Fed up with Raymond, his father – without giving anything away – begins to look into something drastic (sorry I’m being vague), but I never felt any real danger there.
By Raymond’s side is Becca (Kat Dennings), a local bartender and someone he once knew from high school. Dennings, all gothed out (not a complaint), is doing her usual shtick here, but it compliments Raymond’s energy nicely and they make a good team. It’s also great to see John Waters and Sally Kirkland fleshing out the great cast.
Bates is carving out a unique spot for himself on the genre scene that is exciting to watch. I liked Excision quite a bit and even though Suburban Gothic is tonally different, I feel it exists in the same world Excision‘s Pauline lives in. I wish Bates was working with a slightly larger budget on Suburban Gothic – the FX are a bit rough around the edges. Still, his writing is sharp (here, he collaborated on the script with Mark Bruner) and his identity as a filmmaker is becoming clear.
Based on the bizarre visuals of Suburban Gothic, I’d now like to see him drop the humor and go right for the throat with a scary haunted house film or supernatural thriller.
If you missed the trailer for this film click here.