by Jason Suzuki
If Richard Bates Jr.’s previous film Excision is about high school-set coming of age, then his latest film, the supernatural comedy Suburban Gothicis about post-college stagnation. Matthew Gray Gubler plays Raymond, a college grad unable to find a job and forced to move back in with his parents. While there he clashes with his parents, meets up with old classmates, and begins experiencing the same supernatural occurrences from his childhood that had since been on pause. He finds a ghost hunting partner in Becca (Kat Dennings), a classmate who Raymond barely remembers but both share a chubby childhood and a skinny and attractive present.
The feel of the film is like the kind you make as a teenager with your friends. You film at your parents’ place and just have fun. This is no knock at the budget of Suburban Gothic but at how this type of DIY fun permeates the film and lets the majority of the hilarious dialogue and acting land its punches. A hilarious exchange between Raymond and his father, played by Ray Wise who I will write about more later, about why his father knows everything about meth is just one of the moments that still has me cracking up just remembering it.
Going back to the subject of the film’s supernatural element: the mystery of an angry ghost, a spirit upset and unable to move on is the perfect match for Raymond’s situation, who is also unable to move on, forced to return to his old stomping grounds much like a ghost has no choice but to remain at the place of the haunting, usually the location of their wrongful death. Once a little girl’s corpse is disturbed, Raymond is on the case trying to figure out various way to breakthrough and discover more about her which makes up the majority of the film’s second half.
The cameos from John Waters, the Soska sisters, and Jeffrey Combs are quite fun but it’s the performance from other cult icon Ray Wise, as Raymond’s unloving, dickhead father, who is having a blast. After having a short role in Excision he is wisely given more screen time. Another Excision alumni whose supporting role has been upgraded is Gubler who in the lead role is also praise-worthy, as he is able to be both eccentric and enough of a straight man so that he can provide entertaining reactions to the eccentricities of those around him.
While Suburban Gothic lacks the dramatic depths and disturbing punch that Excision had it is nice to see the filmmaker not try to repeat himself with his sophomore film. Suburban Gothic is currently available on demand and will/is hopefully getting a small theatrical run somewhere out there. Still, if it’s not, reunite with those friends who you made all those silly videos with and sit down and watch the film at the same house you made those videos in. But only if your parents still live there.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.