Suburban Gothic is director Richard Bates Jr’s second film following Excision, his gruesome horror about a disturbed teen’s mental state. Suburban Gothic, however, trades in most of the blood and grisly scenes of Excision for more humour while retaining Bates’s trademark character moments and dialogues.
There’s surely more room for genre comedies like Ghostbusters, but the gaps in between releases in that genre can almost be measured in decades, and it has to be said that many of them aren’t particularly good: for every Spaceballs there’s a The Creature Wasn’t Nice (obscure reference − look it up), and for every Princess Bride there’s a Your Highness. Luckily, we sometimes get a few good ones in a row, such as Zombieland, Shaun Of The Dead, and Tucker And Dale Vs Evil.
If you’ve seen Excision, you’ve experienced its maker’s wry sense of humour. Watching Excision is not unlike watching a Quentin Tarantino movie; you get the distinct impression that the director is working out his issues through his movies, and he’s taking you along for the ride. Bates admits that the general mood of his movies is tied to his own state of mind at the moment of writing the script. If the blood and irony mix of Excision was too much for you, Suburban Gothic might be a lighter watch, since it appears that Bates wrote this one while in the throes of a different emotional high.
Suburban Gothic delivers a great mix of supernatural horror and comedy, and if you like Bates’ brand of storytelling, with its frank dialogues and memorable lines, you’ll definitely enjoy Suburban Gothic. The style is a mash-up of teen comedy, horror, supernatural and Saturday-morning cartoons. Watching Matthew Gray Gubler working with Kate Dennings and Ray Wise here, and you can’t help but think of this movie as Constantine meets Supernatural meets Scooby-Doo.
Bates balances all those elements, and although it could feel like a hodgepodge of loosely related influences, he actually manages to make it work. The premise is nothing new: a college-graduate, Raymond (Gubler) who can’t find a job moves, back in with his parents after being evicted from his apartment, and faces a supernatural threat with the help of Goth barmaid, Becca (Dennings).
Bates casts several of the same actors he used in Excision, from Matthey Gray Gubler, who now graduates to the main role, to Ray Wise, who gets a much more pivotal role, allowing him to exercise some very impressive comedy muscle. There’s also John Waters who, despite having less screen time, gives us the most memorable scene in the entire movie. The repartee between Gubler, Dennings and Waters during their short screen time together makes watching this movie worthwhile all by itself. Ray Wise’s portrayal of Donald, Raymond’s racist, overbearing father, provides the best comedic moments next to Waters’ scene, and Wise shines as the true star of the movie.
In interviews, both Wise and Bates mentioned the importance of improvisation during shooting, and you can’t help but wonder which lines were spontaneous creations of the cast, and how many scenes ended up on the editing room’s floor. A deleted scene or blooper reel might end up being even more entertaining than the actual movie, once the movie makes it to DVD.
Gubler is convincing in his role, sporting an Edward Scissorhands-like hairdo and a look akin to a dejected Jim Carey – he looks suitably awkward for a grown child coming back home to live with his parents.
The effects are a bit rough, but they are so far removed from the main spotlight on the character-driven plot and engaging dialogue that you don’t mind so much. Some effects appear intentionally sketchy, which at time moves the movie into slapstick territory, to the detriment of the overall tone of the film. The gore or grisly stuff is also kept to a minimum, which almost seems out of character for Bates after Excision.
The movie gets a little slow about halfway through, and you don’t really know where it will go from there. Luckily, the easy humour carries it through to the next plot twist. It would be easy to compare this movie to more mainstream horror comedies, but Suburban Gothic really stands on its own. We’ve had a full serving of gore with Excision, and a potent dose of supernatural comedy with Suburban Gothic. We’re curious to see what the filmmaker comes up with next.
Suburban Gothic’s UK release date has yet to be announced. We’ll be sure to pass one along when it becomes available.
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