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TONE DEAF [Celluloid Screams Festival 2019]

Written By:

Spleeny Dotson
Tone Deaf


We all know how slasher movies work, we’ve seen them by the dozen and we know the tropes. Richard Bates Jr knows the tropes too but possibly not when best to use them.

In his latest film, Bates attempts a semi-comic social satire pitting angry baby boomer against savvy millennial and is up front about what he’s doing, allowing his boomer psychopath (ably played by a frighteningly suddenly old Robert Patrick) direct monologues to camera to lay out his position, railing against the pampered millenials watching this rubbish. In fact much of the start of the film is about laying out characters motivations in a way that, if this were theatre, would see each walking up the thrust of the stage to address the audience rather than their co-stars. Even the tropes, both of genre and millennial angst setting, are centre staged and spotlight (guys are jerks – tick, insecure employment – tick, money issues – tick) before being shoved aside to get back to the slasher tropes and sending the lead, Olive, a tone deaf pianist played by Amanda Crew, to her cabin in the woods.

There are plenty of laughs lurking in this film and even a much more interesting, fish out of water in rural USA, movie that could have been but, as soon as it seems to be heading anywhere genuine or meaningful, Bates keeps jerking the movie away, back to being a slasher and, frustratingly, not even a slasher movie done well.

There are also some clanging errors, such as Olive’s hippy Mom, who is clearly a Gen-Xer (since she’s not in her 70s) referencing the ‘60s and Robert Patrick’s monologues only really seeming appropriate to a man in his 80s or 90s. Even many of the millennial tropes that Olive and her friends live through feel forced, laboured and kind of false, in spite of this being the director’s own milieu.

In the leads Amanda Crew’s comic timing and sense of exhausted ennui are generally spot on (especially during a weirdly movingly sarcastic LSD trip) and Robert Patrick does really shine at odd moments (although they really are odd, his character is so inconsistent that sadly nearly every interaction he has feels false and stagey).

Bates clearly wanted to make something more than a horror movie but, in his assessment of intergenerational conflict, he is ironically tone deaf and he has made something slightly less than a social satire that would almost work as a comedy if it didn’t keep chucking gore and unearned jump scares at you to remind you that it’s scary. What you have instead is a movie that thinks it’s funnier and scarier than it is and, most infuriatingly, keeps on looking straight into the camera to tell you so, without giving you a right of reply. This is our reply.

Spleeny Dotson

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