Do you remember The ‘burbs? It came out back in 1989, directed by Joe Dante and starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher and Rick Ducommon, and was a fun and slightly creepy tale about how neighbours react when someone moves into an old house across the street. Every couple of years I go back and watch it; I even wrote about it here back in 2010. It’s just one of those under the radar movies that sticks with you. And when I finished watching Suburban Gothic, the excellent second film from director Richard Bates Jr., I couldn’t help but feel like I’d seen a kindred spirit to The ‘burbs.
Suburban Gothic stars Matthew Gray Gubler as Raymond, a recent MBA graduate who can’t score a job in the big city and is forced to move back home with his parents, played by Ray Wise and Barbara Niven, respectively. Raymond happens to have the unique ability to talk to spirits, though nobody believes him except Becca (Kat Dennings), who runs the local bar. Things start getting strange when spirits begin communicating intensely with Raymond, who sets out to find out who the spirits are and what they want.
From the set design to the cinematography to the score to the performances, I absolutely loved Suburban Gothic. It is going to become a new cult classic. Bates came up with a, dare I say, quirky horror comedy that seriously had me laughing hard every few minutes. Gubler is cast perfectly as Raymond – the character is slightly smug, more than a little embarrassed because of his own failings, and very, very funny. Never have you heard a grown man scream the way he does when confronted with the horrors haunting his house.
As great as Gubler is, as funny as he is, his great work is equaled, if not surpassed by an incredible performance by Ray Wise as his dad. Wise is one of our great character actors, but I don’t think he’s ever played as despicable a character as he does in Suburban Gothic (other than Leland Palmer, of course). Racism and sexism comes spewing out of his mouth, and you can’t believe you’re hearing it – I was laughing at him, not with him, because he is just a hilariously horrible character that you’re eager to see get his. Perhaps the highlight of the film is when Wise utters what should become an immortal line, “next time you interrupt your mother sucking my dick then there will be hell to pay.”
While the ending drags a bit, and the special effects are of the low-budget variety, in my mind, Suburban Gothic is a triumph of oddball storytelling and moviemaking, much like The ‘burbs was back in 1989. I haven’t seen Richard Bates Jr’s first film, the acclaimed Excision, but it’s now jumped to the top of my list. He is clearly a filmmaker to watch.
Suburban Gothic is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, and comes, if you couldn’t tell, highly recommended. Do yourself a favour and be sure to check it out.