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Featured Review: Suburban Gothic

January 30th, 2015

Suburban Gothic - Video on Demand

Suburban Gothic is the second film from Richard Bates, Jr.. His first movie was Excision, which was excellent, but extreme enough that even fans of body horror might not enjoy it. Is Suburban Gothic as good as his first film? Does it have a wider appeal? Is it at least worth checking out on Video on Demand?

The Movie

Matthew Gray Gubler stars as Raymond, a recent college graduate who can't find a job. He's talking to his guidance counselor, but when he says he will have to move in with his parents, she suggests staying with his parents would make sense. In response, he calls her the worst guidance counselor ever. At first I thought that was simply mean; then we meet his father. Ray Wise plays Raymond's father, Donald. Wise specializes in playing bad characters, but he is especially unsympathetic in this role. He played the literal Devil in the TV show Reaper, but Donald is a far worse character. Raymond was able to see ghosts as a kid and this was very traumatic for him. While Raymond's mother, Eve was sympathetic to him, Donald treated his son like a freak and a failure. This attitude continues to the present day.

When Raymond returns home, the family is getting their lawn redone and Donald is berating the man in charge, Hector, as the work is going slower than they would like, as the equipment keeps breaking down. Hector claims it is a curse, which Donald uses as an excuse to be racist. He does that a lot. Donald pays Hector an extra $3,000 to work through the night. However, that night, Hector and his crew uncover an unmarked grave with a small girl buried inside. The crew freak out, rightfully so, but Hector just wants to rebury the body, minus the necklace he pockets for himself. The crew refuses and runs away. This is when Hector is attacked by a dark spirit and goes missing.

Meanwhile, Raymond decides that his new life living with his parents is bad enough that he's going to head to a local bar and get completely wasted. There he meets two people from his past. Firstly, the bully who used to torment him as a child. The bully decides it is time to administer another beating, but that's when the second person from his past shows up, Becca. Becca was a fellow classmate who also hates their home town, but stayed behind after graduation and now owns the bar. Both hate this small town, so they have something in common, and when Raymond starts seeing ghosts again, Becca is his main ally in uncovering the mystery and helping the restless spirits.

So Suburban Gothic is a horror / comedy, which is a difficult genre to get right. It is nearly impossible to get both the horror elements and the humor right. At the moment, its reviews are exactly 50% positive, which is a low in my opinion. It does have some issues. For instance, it falls for the "Indie Quirk" problem I've talked about. Too often independent comedies rely on quirkiness rather than good writing to generate humor. This does happen here a couple of times, but not so much that it is a real issue. Additionally, there are parts of the plot that are brought up and dropped too quickly. For instance, Raymond encounters his bully a few times, but this plot thread doesn't have a good resolution. The makes the film's pacing a bit of a problem.

On the other hand, the acting is very good in the movie with Matthew Gray Gubler, Ray Wise, Kat Dennings, and others putting in entertaining performances. (John Waters even shows up in a fun cameo.) The horror mystery elements are an asset to the film, but the film is never really scary enough to earn the horror part of the horror / comedy. I kept expecting another twist to come up to add to the horror, but that never happened. That said, I was engaged throughout the whole movie.

The Verdict

Overall, Suburban Gothic is definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre or of the cast. Enough works that I enjoyed watching it, but there are enough flaws that I think Video on Demand is a better option than seeing it in theaters.

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Filed under: Video Review, Suburban Gothic, Kat Dennings, Matthew Gray Gubler, Mel Rodriguez, John Waters, Ray Wise, Barbara Niven, Richard Bates, Jr.