MOVIE REVIEW: SUBURBAN GOTHIC / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: RICHARD BATES JR. / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD BATES JR., MARK BRUNER / STARRING: MATTHEW GRAY GUBLER, KAT DENNINGS, RAY WISE, SALLY KIRKLAND / RELEASE DATE: TBC
With his debut feature, Excision, writer/director Bates created a superbly twisted, disturbing but darkly comic tale of a teenage girl with delusional aspirations. While that film was ultimately completely devastating, his follow up, Suburban Gothic has a much lighter feel. Which is not to say it's without its dark side.
Raymond (Gubler), just out of law school but unable to find a job, has moved back home to his parents. His father (Wise) is a racist high school football coach and his mother (Barbara Niven) still treats him like a child (spit-combing his wayward hair at any opportunity). As a child, Raymond was prone to seeing ghosts, though. And those visions return with terrifying regularity when a group of Mexican workers dig up a child's decomposed remains in their front garden. With the help of sympathetic and equally kooky barmaid Becca (Dennings), Raymond tries to settle the spirit haunted the house.
This film is certainly going to divide audiences. Some will love the off-the-wall humour and quirky style of Gubler - indeed, those who love his genius/autistic-like Spencer Reid in TV's Criminal Minds will certainly get a kick out of his turn as the sardonic yet troubled Raymond - which bounces gloriously off the straight-faced delivery of the ever-brilliant Wise. Others, however, will just think the whole thing very forced and lacking in direction. They will be wrong of course, but each to their own. Laugh out loud funny when it needs to be, and, likewise, actually efficiently scary at times, something which is occasionally at risk of being overshadowed by the one-liners and visual gags, but they just about get away with it.
Like in Excision, we're treated to a handful of genre cameos, including Jeffrey Combs and a repeat turn from the Pope of Trash himself, John Waters. Indeed, Bates' style is very reminiscent of Waters (with a sprinkling of David Lynch). Not in a derivative way - he doesn't particularly go out to shock - but in the portrayal of family and social interactions. One could also expect Excision's Pauline to live one town down; such is the similar feel to this environment.
The supernatural aspect is a parallel to the lead's own life. Trapped and struggling to find peace, Raymond is haunted by his childhood (he was an overweight kid) and has no matter how hard he tried, he can't escape the demons of his past, particularly since his life has brought him back to his roots.
Although the effects are not at the highest standard, it's still a low budget indie film after all, they are not so bad as to throw you completely out of the action.
As said, it won't be to everyone's taste, but for those who like it offbeat, it's well worth a look.
Expected Rating 7 out of 10