SXSW 2019: TONE-DEAF Review – An Uninteresting Misfire
Starring Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick
Written by Richard Bates, Jr.
Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.
Horror has a long history of blending social commentary with some scares and blood. When done right, it can be a highly entertaining but also insightful experience. Unfortunately, the new film by Richard Bates, Jr. (Excision, Trash Fire), Tone-Deaf is just as its title suggests, a misguided attempt at a slasher-comedy with political commentary that tries its hand at playing a delicate and contrived piano piece but instead feels like someone randomly smashing keys with their fists in the hopes that something sticks. At least they found a perfect title for this movie.
After a quick prologue in which a young girl’s piano recital is intercut with images of Ray Wise kissing a woman before seemingly committing suicide, we meet Olive (Crew). She is a millennial who just broke up with her cheating boyfriend and, after getting fired from work, she only cares about being around for Free Lunch Friday. Her friends pressure her to get away from the city, so she decides to leave the city for a weekend in the country, renting an ornate and remote country house. The owner is Harvey (Patrick), an old-fashioned widower who hates everyone younger than him and thinks millennials should just die to help overpopulation. He is also very bad at hiding his psychopathic tendencies.
The tone of the film is all over the place. It feels like tiny 15-minute chunks from entirely different movies pieced together at random times, as you never know exactly what the film is trying to say or how you’re supposed to react. If you don’t like what you’re seeing on screen, just wait a little longer and it will change into a different film. Bates, Jr. also tries his hand at introducing some dream sequences of naked ladies in blur body-paint that sure look colorful and eccentric, but makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t help that the editing feels rushed and incoherent, skipping a few frames when a character gets killed and inserting a random shot inside a character’s body to show their heart being stabbed.
Tone-Deaf also makes the interesting but ultimately misguided choice to have Robert Patrick’s psychopathic baby boomer deliver the film’s social commentary by talking straight into the camera and to the audience. The commentary never goes deeper than “millennials are privileged” and “baby boomers don’t understand today’s society” and the fourth-wall break takes you out of the film instantly.
What the film does right is the casting. Robert Patrick does the best he can do with the character, and despite the questionable motivation, he is terrifying as a man who won’t accept that the world changed. Watching him go crazier and crazier in his attempts to terrorize Olive almost makes it all worth it. Amanda Crew also does a great job portraying Olive’s growth and her feeling less entitled and start caring for others.
But great actors can’t save this mess of a film. The story introduces hints for sub-plots that are never explored, including what could have been an interesting exploration of the way suicide ruins entire families, but it moves on to the next thing as quickly as it is introduced. The humor is misplaced, with very serious scenes played for laughs, followed by more dramatic and serious scenes, never being actually funny.
Tone-Deaf tries to be a timely and funny slasher about the generational divide in America, but a weak script and spotty editing results in a film that is neither funny, scary, or even entertaining.