Sometimes a movie tries so hard at being “something”, it just amounts to nothing. That’s what I felt about Suburban Gothic, the sophomore film from Richard Bates Jr. The film wants to – primarily –be a comedy, but also a supernatural thriller, horror, and romance fused together by scenes that aim to be clever, cute, and occasionally creepy…sometimes all at once. But these elements never harmonize; we are stuck with a film that is competing to be many things, and is successful at almost none of them.
The storycentres on Raymond (Criminal Minds’s Matthew Gray Gubler), an MBA graduate stuck at home and without a job. Beloved by his mother (Barbara Niven) and frowned upon by his pop (Ray Wise, reprising another one of his pervy, Leland Palmer dad roles), Raymond discovers he has a knack for channeling spirits and other paranormal activities. He crews up with local, occult-obsessed bartender (Kat Dennings) to exorcise their town of a vengeful spectre. Essentially, this is Raymond’s way of saying: “hey look, I have a job!”
Bates deserves points for not taking this material too seriously, and actually poking fun at small-town American’s superstitions. But the real American trope here– gothic fiction– is not commemorated properly here, as it was in David Lynch’s immortal Blue Velvet. These types of fiction ought to find “strangeness in the familiar”, as Freud wrote–wickedness resting beneath the grass in our backyards, as Lynch proved. Sadly, Bates only looks for strangeness in the most uninteresting ways. There are enough arch head-on p.o.v. shots here to make Wes Anderson want to sue. And if Edgar Allan Poe were alive, I hope he’d care not to comment. (Parker Mott)