Synopsis: Raymond has a prestigious MBA, but he can’t find work. He can channel the paranormal, but chatting with a cute girl mystifies him. Kicked out of his big city apartment, Raymond returns home to his overbearing mother, ex-jock father, and beer-bellied classmates. But when a vengeful ghost terrorizes the small town, the city-boy recruits Becca, a badass local bartender to solve the mystery of the spirit threatening everyone’s lives.
Suburban Gothic 6.75
eyelights: the lead. its idiosyncrasies.
eyesores: its lack of excitement. its limited number of laughs.
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
Ray is broke. Holding out for a job that justifies his Master’s degree in business, he finds himself stuck moving back in with his parents in a small town suburban nightmare: he’s at constant odds with his bigoted, old-fashioned father, and he draws the ire of the locals who don’t understand his big city quirks.
To make matters worse, he’s becoming aware of paranormal activity in and around the house. As a child, Ray used to see ghosts and believed in the supernatural, but that hadn’t happened in for over a decade. Soon he gets consumed with trying to solve the mystery of a little girl that was found buried in his backyard.
‘Suburban Gothic’ is the 2014 follow-up by filmmaker Richard Bates Jr., of ‘Excision’. Starring Matthew Gray Gubler as Ray and Kat Dennings as his friend Becca, it’s a subdued mixture of satire and paranormal horror. It’s essentially a fish-out-of-water story that could once have belonged to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
Unfortunately, it lacks the inventiveness of early Burton, and, while its quirks are on display, they don’t amount to much in this day and age; we’ve seen much quirkier by now and greater contrasts. Sadly, although this adds a layer of humour to the proceedings, it’s not enough to generate any truly significant laughs.
Thankfully, Gubler is winsome in the part of Ray: we fully believe that this guy is neurotic and not feeling quite in his element at home – though his doting mother tries her best. Gubler often plays it relatively dry, detached, which seems perfectly-suited to someone who’s slightly reserved and feeling on the defensive.
The rest of the cast is also excellent. Kat Denning is fine as the bad @$$ Becca, though I suspect that it’s the character that I like more than the performer. Ray Wise and Barbara Niven are truly the best of the bunch as Ray’s parents, with Wise sinking his teeth in this jerk-off while Niven is sweet and adorable.
If anything, the problem seems to reside in the material, which is limited in scope and telegraphs its twists and turns well head of time. Had the quirks and humour compensated for the plot, then this would not have been an issue, but neither really captivate the audience, leaving us watching the picture unfold unmoved.
Oh, there were some fun bits, like the cameo by John Waters as the curator of the town’s Historical Museum, to whom Ray’s father gave the skeleton of the little girl. Ray tries to convince him to return the remains so that they give her a proper burial, but he won’t do it – not even after Becca offers him a blow-job.
But there are attempts at humour that fall completely flat, like when Ray and Becca decide to hold one of the movie’s many séances, this time wearing white sheets over their heads. It’s inexplicable and the obvious gag of scaring someone who mistakenly thinks they’re ghosts never took place. So what was the point of that, then?
And that’s the general vibe one gets with ‘Suburban Gothic’: it’s an incomplete sketch of something greater. Though it works as a picture, connecting all of its bits reasonably well, and it’s held up by a decent cast, it just never really fulfills its promise – it neither spooks nor does it make us laugh the way you’d want it to.
Or the way it likely intended to, I’d wager.
Date of viewing: October 10, 2016