Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.
Attempting to hit a home run out of the park on your second at bat is no easy feat, and the same could be said for the sophomore director hoping to attain similar success with his (or her) second film.
After his darkly entertaining 2012 film Excision, director Richard Bates, Jr., firmly dug his feet into the batter’s box and swung for the fences with Suburban Gothic , and while not exactly producing round-tripper results, this horror/comedy is a solid ground-rule double, and that should be more than enough to appease its fans.
Showcased at the Fantasia Film Festival this past weekend, the movie focuses on a college grad who must learn the ultimate lesson in humility: moving back home with mom and dad after a failed job search. While this would probably be enough to cripple the ordinary diploma-carrying alum, Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) is certainly no stranger to sustained embarrassment; and his school memories are now coming back to rear their ugly heads as Raymond once again has become a non-willing resident in his hometown. It seems as if NO ONE from his teen scholastic years has left the old stomping grounds. Everyone remembers the little fat kid from elementary, middle and high school that used to scream like a little girl (Ray has lost the weight but not the high-pitched shriek). His ability to connect with the paranormal is still a staple in his life, although it’s been pushed to the side in order to make room for his now useless business degree.
His parents are split on the idea of Raymond’s return – his father (Ray Wise in an absolutely hilarious role) who captains the high-school football team believes that his spawn is truly useless and reminds him on a daily basis, while dear ol’ mom (Barbara Niven) is over the moon with joy now that her baby boy has come home. Ray’s days and nights are spent hanging out and drinking at the local tavern, where a former classmate (Kat Dennings as Becca) is serving up the booze to both past and present barflies.
Waiting for the “horror” yet? Stick with me, and I’ll get you there…
After a day-labor group that was hired by Ray’s dad uncovers the casket of a small girl, they immediately flee their work site and swear to never return or speak of what they’ve done. The unfortunate result of their actions is that now the spirit has awoken, and it is angry and harvesting souls from around town.
As soon as Raymond gets over a few disconcerting incidents where he has the crap scared out of himself, resulting in his Girl Scoutish howl presenting itself again, he mans up and enlists the aid of his bartending love interest to finally put the squash on the spirit that’s terrorizing the neighborhood. The laughs are pretty memorable, with the interaction between Raymond and his dad setting the bar for subtle biting sarcastic greatness – they work well together and their humor is paired with some buoyant cameos such as Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) as a family physician, directorial legend John Waters as the town’s historian, and Sally Kirkland as his secretary. Hell, there’s even a role here for Mackenzie Phillips as one of Ray’s mom’s friends – interesting to say the least.
In the end, if you’re looking for horror to dominate the top end of this production, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re craving the laughs, then I’m happy to say that there is salvation in this assembly. Overall, Suburban Gothic won’t bowl you over with humor or scares, but it provides an entertaining 90-minute watch for those that are willing to invest in it.
3 out of 5