Richard Bates Jr. first hit the horror scene with his wicked debut Excision, a film that injected pitch black humor into a twisted plot. While his sophomore effort, Suburban Gothic, may lack the same punch to the gut that Excision delivered, it makes up for it in its absurdity and quick-witted dialog. After Raymond is forced into moving back in with his parents, a vengeful ghost begins to terrorize him and his family. Becca, a badass local bartender, joins him in trying to solve the mystery of the spirit threatening everyone’s lives.
Suburban Gothic is a strangely entertaining little film that sees the unlikely ghost-hunting tandem of Matthew Gray Gubler and Kat Dennings attempt to solve the mystery of a little girl who has been long dead. It’s a simple premise, really, one that unfortunately gets lost in its own narrative a little too often, almost becoming an afterthought.
That was my biggest gripe with Suburban Gothic, too; it felt like it was trying to tell two different stories. On one hand, there’s this immediate struggle between Raymond and his father—the two have a hilariously unhealthy relationshit, one that surprisingly becomes the film’s biggest strength. But on the other hand, Suburban Gothic really wants to be a ghost story, yet it never feels like one. While both offer some fantastic moments–I particularly liked the toenail scene–it felt like they were working against each other rather than together.
That said, there is a lot of good in this one. The cast; it’s phenomenal. The writing; it’s often hilarious. And then there’s Matthew Gray Gubler and Kat Dennings; the two are a fantastic duo and show great chemistry as they transition from one scene to the next. The best part about their characters—as well as everyone else in the film—is that they feel like these ridiculous exaggerations of real people.
The asshole at the bar isn’t just an asshole; he’s this huge, over-the-top piece of shit. The father doesn’t just feel disappointed in his son; he absolutely loathes him, so much so that he tries to get him sent to a mental hospital. Raymond’s mom could have been plucked out of the 1950s and even the ghost itself does some really strange shit. It creates this weirdly entertaining little world that introduces us to some seriously messed up, deranged and hilarious characters. Suburban Gothic never plays it straight-faced, rather it looks for the humor in even the worst of situations, all of which is propelled by its great set of characters.
Suburban Gothic is an interesting sophomore effort from Richard Bates Jr., one that I think will find plenty of fans who appreciate its absurdity. But because it’s just so… weird, I think it’s going to turn a lot of people away. Its humor is crude and unashamed, and when it hits, it hits hard. There’s plenty of fun to be had in Suburban Gothic, so if you’ve got a mind for the unnatural and the ghostly, then give this one a shot.