Suburban Gothic

Do you know me? Do you know me? I’m asking you a question. I’ll tell you who I am, I am a fucking wizard sent from the future in a mother-fucking time machine to tell you that you are an asshole. You’re the type of person that makes fun of fat, short little kids and makes them feel bad about themselves for the rest of their lives because you think you’re so special. Well do you know what? You’re not special. You’re not different. You’re not even particularly interesting. You’re the same, bigoted, homophobic, redneck, football loving, Martin Luther King assassinating, asshole face, son of a bitch redneck that you have spent your entire life rebelling against! And I know that that kills you inside.                

Year Released : 2014suburban-gothic
Director : Richard Bates Jr
Cast : Matthew Gray Gubler, Kat Dennings, Ray Wise, Barbara Niven and Muse Watson

There are some films that have won your attention before you even know what the film is about and whilst browsing a selection of what to watch and review next for this site, this stood out straight away due to it’s odd poster/DVD cover.

I have seen many odd films during my 30 years on this planet but after sitting through this for 90 minutes, I have been struggling to even comprehend most of what I have just watched. It’s hard to put most of it into context because of it’s exceptionally bizarre nature, the loose storyline, pacing which is all over the place and an unusual look. It’s hard to even categorise it as it fits in several different genres all at the same time.

What I would say about Suburban Gothic before we even start is to not go in with any expectations about what you are about to watch, not on any level whatsoever. I went into it expecting something completely different to what I got, and there is nothing that I like more than getting something I don’t expect when I start watching a film.

Plot

Raymond (Gubler) returns to his home town after failing to secure a job after college. His parents (Wise and Niven) seriously disapprove and aren’t welcoming to him at all. As time goes on he begins seeing old friends from school and develops a relationship with Becca (Dennings), who shares his unusual outlook on life.

Meanwhile, Raymond’s parents are having their garden re-landscaped but the works stumble across a wooden coffin with a long deceased girl inside. One of the workers steals a necklace before they all run away. This is followed by supernatural occurrences being noticed throughout the town and Raymond experiencing visions that he hasn’t had since childhood.

The supernatural occurrences turn violent and Raymond must find a way to help protect his family as the ghosts break their bones, all whilst he struggles to convince them that he is not insane.

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Sounds odd…..

It sounds odd because it is. I can’t quite put my finger on it at all but in many ways this is the most unique film I’ve ever seen in terms of it’s look, presentation, acting, dialogue and visuals. The film doesn’t look like a film, it’s vivid use of colours makes it almost seem like what would be a pilot for a TV show rather than a movie. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s just usually the case where you see TV shows films in one way and TV shows in another, but this falls very much into the latter. It is very similar in that sense to the TV show “Dead Like Me” and I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard Bates Jr took inspiration from the presentation style of that in preparation for this.

The first thing that I will give it a big credit for is that despite despite being low budget (probably), it’s done in a very professional manner with the camera work. I have pointed out in previous reviews that if a film has poor camera work then it looks me early on, but “Suburban Gothic” doesn’t have that issue. The picture and movement is very fluid, steady and focused, rather than the handheld and/or shaky cam approach of a lot of other low budget films. This “helps” (if that’s the right word) give it the look of a TV show pilot rather than a movie.

Away from the camera work, in many ways this was very similar to 1996’s “The Frighteners” due to the subject matter and the unusual visual approach, although I definitely preferred the Peter Jackson made horror film. There are several reasons for this and it certainly doesn’t help that the pacing is all wrong. At the moment of writing this I am 40 or so minutes into the film and despite the odd mention of what the actual plot point of the film is, the film has largely felt directionless and full to the brim with filler scenes, such as Raymond encountering his old bullies and they threaten to beat him up before he runs away, and they don’t even try and chase him. It adds very little.

That being said, the character of Raymond develops really well throughout, going from his feeling lost aura, right up until his berating a student after she suspects him of being homosexual. He launches into a great rant that I have put at the top of this page and it is one of the best rants I have seen in a film that I’ve reviewed since my look at Laurence Anyways.

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Although the unusual and eerie feeling through is obviously intended , the script, although enjoyable, does regularly feel like it’s odd just for the sake of trying to be odd without actually adding anything to the characters or story. For example, “you’ve just dug yourself a vagina grave” when referencing a bad tattoo, “next time you interrupt your mother sucking my dick then there will be hell to pay”, “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been masturbating to you” or even “I’ve just taken some painkillers just incase we have an accident.” It’s just a truly bizarre film based on the dialogue alone, but it keeps you wanting to keep watching just to see what new levels of bizarreness that they can reach next.

Whilst odd, the dialogue does feel like it has a high level of fluidity. Conversations feel largely natural and unlike the pacing of the film in general, the dialogue is spoken in a way and at a rate that is very true to real life. Talking to someone else isn’t always a perfect stream of conversation like you see in films, and through characters interrupt each other, talk over each other and respond in bitchy and sassy ways.

I’m going to finish this by talking about what was one of the biggest positives for me and that is the performance of Gubler. This the first time that I have ever seen a film with him in it and he suits the role absolutely perfect. He has that aura of being an oddball about him (and I mean that in a nice way) and he plays the role of Raymond with seeming ease. He is like a dark-comedy version of Zach Braff in Scrubs and this is one of those roles that had anyone else played it, then it probably wouldn’t have been as  convincing or enjoyable. The character is very likeable throughout and one of the few protagonists from a film I’ve reviewed on this site that I felt I could relate to.

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Summary

If you like bizarre films then this is definitely for you. I’ve seen many odd films throughout my life but this is up there as one of the oddest, and as I say it is remarkably unique. Although I can compare it on a very small basis to “The Frighteners” and the tv show “Dead Like Me”, those are only tiny comparisons.

I’m not entirely sure if I actually like it or not, and it’s obvious why reviews have been largely mixed, but it’s definitely memorable and that is probably the biggest compliment that I can ever give a film. It is certainly one that will stick in my mind for a while.

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