Richard Bates Jr. arrived on the scene in 2012 with Excision – a teen angst dark comedy that was as bold as it was bloody. His newest feature Suburban Gothic on the other hand couldn’t be any more different to it’s predecessor: if Excision is black then Suburban Gothic is white, but they do share similarities in terms of laughs and strong characters who’ll resonate with most average human beings to some degree. With Suburban Gothic, Bates has delivered a supernatural comedy that’s sure to brighten many a dull day and it’s sure to bring out the inner child of the most ardent horror fan.
Suburban Gothic is an innocent spooky caper about down-on-his-luck twenty-something, Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler), who can’t find work after college and is forced to move back in with his parents; much to the dismay of his overbearing, slightly racist father who resents him. Upon returning to his home town he sticks out like a sore thumb and it doesn’t take long for him to remember why he left in the first place. It also doesn’t take long for old childhood demons to resurface in the form of ghosts after an old chest with a dead body inside is unearthed in Ray’s back garden. Now with a spook on the loose it’s up to Ray and the sassy bartender Becca (Kat Dennings) to solve the mystery and help the ghost cross over to the afterlife.
Suburban Gothic reminded me of a Scooby Doo cartoon with some of Peter Jackson’s underrated classic The Frighteners (1996) thrown in for good measure. It’s a teen supernatural comedy the whole family can enjoy every Halloween, with some coming-of-age themes that are sure to resonate with those at a lost point in their lives. However, more than anything it’s sure to keep you laughing for its duration with the exchanges between the characters; particularly Ray and his father (Ray Wise), whose dysfunctional relationship provides the bulk of the entertainment. Ray just doesn’t live up to his fathers expectations, and Ray Wise’s portrayal of a close minded hard ass is scene stealing.
Of course, no good character driven comedy works without funny central characters, and thankfully Gubler and Dennings have great chemistry as a double team of likeable outcasts hunting down ghosts. Dennings is her typical smarmy self and Gubler is wonderfully sarcastic and awkward in the face of all adversity.
The effects do look quite cheap but intentionally so to add to the innocent charm of the film; the only scenes which are close to being violent are the back story of the ghosts murder, but even then it’s nothing that’s going to scar the mind and soul of the pre-pubescent.
Suburban Gothic is a much needed feel good horror film for the whole family to enjoy. This is the type of movie children will grow up, much like Ghostbusters (1984) and Monster Squad (1987) did for past generations of budding horror fanatics. It’s a silly, fun, oddball romp with human themes we can all relate to. Richard Bates Jr. is the future of horror and it’ll be interesting to see what he comes out with next. 8/10
Richard Bates Jr.
Richard Bates Jr. & Mark Bruner
Michael Gray Gubler, Kat Dennings, Ray Wise