'Suburban Gothic': Fantasia Review
"Excision" director Richard Bates Jr. lightens up for a cartoony ghost mystery
Having to move back in with your parents after college is tough enough without seeing ghosts in your childhood bedroom, as well. And when your parents think you're delusional, using visions of the beyond as a way to avoid getting on with life, who could blame you for acting out a bit? That's the gist of Suburban Gothic, Richard Bates Jr.'s follow-up to the fanboy-embraced Excision. Comic instead of scary, with a candied color scheme and mystery plot that bolster comparisons to Scooby Doo, it will serve as a palate-cleanser for genre fans at dread-soaked horror festivals; prospects beyond the festival circuit are less certain.
Matthew Gray Gubler strikes the right tone as Raymond, a young man who must return to his parents' house but doesn't have to pretend he likes it. Nagged by his casually racist football-coach dad (Ray Wise, whose comic delivery is a big asset here) to be a regular guy, Raymond provokes him with outre wardrobe choices and snarky observations. He finds solace from suburban provincialism at a bar, bonding with fellow malcontent Becca (Kat Dennings). She's the only person other than his parents' remodeling contractors — who've accidentally disturbed the spirit of a corpse buried in the back yard — to believe his stories about supernatural encounters. The two resolve to figure out who's haunting Raymond's house and how to fix it.
The physical manifestations of this particular haunting — inky black clouds, toenails that peel away of their own accord, eyeballs turning up where eyeballs aren't supposed to be — would be disturbing if they looked real. But Bates's FX team has an intentionally goofy touch, and their tone is matched by Michl Britsch's cheerful, plucky score. (That score's '80s nostalgia is countered by the garage-rock blast of Mississippi band Bass Drum of Death, which contributes a handful of bracing numbers to the soundtrack.)
The movie plays quite well for a while but begins to run out of steam in its second half, its occasional laughs not coming quickly enough to keep us interested in the unfolding lore of 19th century murders. Little effort is made to create chemistry between Gubler and Dennings, whose character is a one-note bad girl. The perfunctory resolution to their would-be romance is no more gratifying than a climax in which both spirit-world drama and Raymond's domestic conflict are wrapped up in a single tidy event.
Production company: New Normal Films
Cast: Matthew Gray Gubler, Kat Dennings, Ray Wise, Barbara Niven, Muse Watson, Sally Kirkland, Mel Rodriguez
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Screenwriters: Richard Bates Jr., Mark Bruner
Producers: Dylan Hale Lewis
Executive producers: Steve Ansell, Richard Bates Jr., Yvonne Valdez
Director of photography: Lucas Lee Graham
Costume designer: Anthony Tran
Editors: Steve Ansell, Yvonne Valdez
Music: Michl Britsch
No rating, 89 minutes