The SXSW Film Festival unleashes plenty of weird movies on enthusiastic fans with nerves of steel. Movies that hide the message they want to convey by wrapping it in genre tropes. But there is arguably no movie that is as direct in what it wants to do as Richard Bates Jr.’s Tone-Deaf, which premieres in the midnight section of the festival.
Following the film’s world premiere at SXSW, Dread Central got the opportunity to chat with director Richard Bates Jr., Amanda Crew and Robert Patrick on coming up with such a premise, getting into their roles, generational divide and breaking the fourth wall.
In Tone-Deaf, millennial Olive (Amanda Crew), having just lost her job and relationship, decides to leave the city for a weekend and rent a house in the country. There she meets the eccentric, old-fashioned Baby Boomer Harvey (Robert Patrick) who is struggling with some psychopathic tendencies and a deep wish to pour bleach down millennials’ throats.
Bates Jr. said he came up with the idea of the film after he saw Normal Rockwell’s painting, The Connoisseur. “In the painting, there’s this man in a business suit looking at what looks like a Pollock recreation,” Bates Jr. told Dread Central. “I’ve had that painting stuck in my mind since college, and I see it as a painting of a scared and confused old man who doesn’t understand the modern world.”
From there he carved the character of Harvey. We’ve seen Robert Patrick play villains before, but we haven’t seen him talk about murdering all millennials or wishing he could pour bleach down their throats. The veteran actor reveals that he didn’t need to do a lot to get in the mindset of the psychopathic Baby Boomer.
“There’s a lot of things I have in common with Harvey,” Patrick told us. “By the time you get to the age and place I am in life, I look back and ask if I’ve really accomplished anything, and what younger people accomplish. It isn’t difficult to feel a bit of rage or jealousy when you get passed on for roles or things like that. So it was easy for me to relate to Harvey and get in his head, even if I never went full method on the role.”
He did have something to say to millennials going to the premiere. “I started asking people in line if they were millennials, and if they said yes I would tell them to sit in the front.”
The reason for this is Bates Jr. makes the decision to break the fourth wall to have the characters deliver the film’s message directly to the audience. “You know, I was inspired by old-school theater,” Bates Jr. said. “Because people don’t really go to the theater anymore, I wanted them to have an interactive experience. I wanted them to feel like they were a part of the movie. And besides, it was all to serve Robert’s character [Harvey]. He is too big to be restrained by a movie, so I wanted him to get unchained and address the audience watching.”
That message is that of generational divide, as the film deals with Harvey’s hatred for millennials, and Olive’s mistrusting Baby Boomers. Yet the film doesn’t really take sides, instead portraying both characters as deeply flawed and stereotypical. Bates Jr. told us that was very intentional.
“I wanted to show how hypocritical both the hero and the villain are,” the film’s director told us. “I wanted to show how Harvey’s hatred for the generation he calls self-obsessed and egocentric isn’t so different from his preoccupation with himself and his place in the world, his feeling of entitlement. Meanwhile, Olive is just as careless and sometimes egocentric as Harvey says she is. She wants to live in a better world, and talks about veganism and environmentalism, but never does anything to change the world or even follow her own advice. We are all hypocrites in one form or another.”
While Amanda Crew has done horror before (her very first film was Final Destination 3), she says she liked the script because it was bold and also more of a comedy. “I’ve never done horror-comedy before,” Crew told us. “It was exciting to do something like this, more satirical, than straight horror. The script was so weird and out there, and I like taking risks.”
Tone-Deaf is definitely out there. One thing that our review of the film notes is how the film doesn’t give Patrick’s character Harvey any motivation besides just a hatred for millennials. According to the film’s director, this was also intentional.
“From the moment I was writing the script, I didn’t want to give him any specific motivation,” he explained. “It is all based on character, and not on plot. Harvey is defined by his anger, as a result of his upbringing and the times he lived in, so I wanted these repressed emotions to come up to the surface in an explosive and bloody way.”