By Cheryl Singleton
As a fan of Richard Bates Jr.’s deliciously disturbing 2012 debut EXCISION, I was anxious to feast my eyes on what would follow. A first taste via the trailer for SUBURBAN GOTHIC did not disappoint. With a super-saturated bubblegum palate, snappy dialogue and a killer cast including Matthew Gray Gubler (CRIMINAL MINDS), Kat Dennings (NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST) and the fan favourite Ray Wise (TWIN PEAKS) I was ready to take another bloody ride with the director.
Having missed the World Premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival back in August, I was delighted to see it would be playing on the opening night of the 9 day Toronto After Dark Film Festival along with Gerard Johnstone’s popular genre mash-up HOUSEBOUND. The two were a perfect pair of oddly hilarious horror films that left a smile on my face for the rest of the night.
While not in the flesh at the screening, Bates Jr. provided a video intro where he warned that this film would be “totally a complete departure from my last movie” Noting that he was unable to get a film made after the graphically disturbing EXCISION, he fell into a depression that led him to revisit things from his childhood that made him happy including watching ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK and SCOOBY DOO cartoons and reading THE HARDY BOYS. With that in mind I was ready to sink into this “children’s film for adults” that he had created.
Unable to find a job in upper management after completing business school, Raymond (Gray Gubler) has no choice but to move back in with his parents in the small town he thought he had escaped years ago. Once an overweight kid obsessed with the supernatural and prone to ghostly visions and high-pitched http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/womans-health/ screams, Raymond has shed the pounds and stopped communicating with the dead, though he remains an outsider thanks to his “European” style of dress and hair that is a character unto itself. Raymond’s parents are split on his return. His mother Eve (Barbara Niven) channels the perfect 50’s housewife and is thrilled to have her little boy back home while his ridiculously bigoted football coach father Donald (Wise) couldn’t be more embarrassed by the arrival of his jobless metro-sexual son.
Bonding with the local bartender Becca (Dennings) over too many drinks, regrettable tattoos and the shared disdain for their town, the snarky pair become fast friends. When Raymond begins to experience strange paranormal occurrences at home (including a particularly cringe worthy piano/ toe nail duet) the two form a misfit ghost hunting team armed with Becca’s trusty crowbar to get to the bottom of it. Gray Gubler and Dennings each bring a crackling energy to the screen which is at its best when they are together. The end of the film suggests more mysteries are in store for the duo and I can only hope to see these explored in some fashion.
While the pace slows at the end of the second act, some secondary characters including the local bullies feel unnecessary and Donald’s prejudices begin to feel a bit heavy, it is not enough to derail the overall fun of the movie.
SUBURBAN GOTHIC is a grown up SCOOBY-DOO mystery complete with characters disguising themselves as ghosts by wearing bed sheets, but by no means is it childish. Between the razor sharp dialogue, the over the top costuming (kudos to designer Anthony Tran), the punk rock energy and the amount of time the characters spend speaking directly into the camera, this film is in your face from start to finish.
EXCISION and SUBURBAN GOTHIC could not be more different yet I was equally enthralled with both. I can’t wait to see what Richard Bates Jr. does next.
DELIRIUM REVIEW: 9/10