I love horror, but I adore silly horror. Unfortunately, a lot of the more brilliant horror comedies flow under the radar, and remain obscure for far too long. Suburban Gothic was a fantastic discovery, and while it is in absolutely no way a brilliant film, as it is very flawed, it is a fantastic piece of horror comedy, and something that I wish I saw sooner.
Essentially, the film stars Matthew Gray Gubler as Raymond, a slacker who actually went to college, but can’t find a job. Shock horror! In response to his unemployment, he has to move in with his parents (Ray Wise and the wonderful Barbara Niven), and we very soon learn that Raymond has a special gift – he can see dead people! However, this haunting he experiences isn’t the scariest part of the film at all – instead, we see a much more real horror – small town America, where Raymond is forced to move back to. The close-minded bullies and the hicks cause Raymond considerable trouble, which makes Suburban Gothic as much a horror as it is a piece of social commentary. The only sane person in the town turns out to be Becca (Kat Dennings), the bartender who is used to being bullied, just like Raymond. Drawn to his absolute weirdness, she can’t help but be attracted to him, maybe just because he is so different from everyone else. So essentially, we have social commentary and romantic comedy, all wrapped up in a horror film. Pretty audacious, honestly. If not flawed at its very core.
Suburban Gothic is a film full of great elements that work brilliantly on their own, but don’t quite work with each other. The acting in this film is absolutely fantastic. Gray Gubler is just wonderful as Raymond, and proves he is leading man material. Dennings is able to escape her atrocious show, 2 Broke Girls, for a bit to actually give a pretty good performance as Becca. Ray Wise is wonderfully nasty as Raymond’s father, and Barbara Niven steals the show as Raymond’s kind but feisty mother. Of course, one of my favorite filmmakers, John Waters, has a wonderful cameo as Cornelius, the perverted head of a historical society, and I wish we were able to see more of him. Faded starlet Sally Kirkland also makes an appearance as the ghost-loving old lady who befriends Raymond and Becca. The cast is very strong, and while it is probably completely C-list stars, it felt like we were seeing a cast of well-established actors just having fun here.
The concept of Suburban Gothic was also very well conceived, but slightly flawed in execution. It felt like we had 45-minutes of establishing the story, and then a further 45-minutes of rushing the rest of the story out there. We are lead into various avenues where we think this story will go, only to have it just pop out of that alley and go in another direction – it doesn’t stick to film cliches, which is a benefit of the film, but it just doesn’t develop some of the more intriguing moments. I wouldn’t have wanted this film to be longer, I just wish it chose one direction to go and just went there directly without trying to compress too much story into too little time.
Suburban Gothic utilizes some very fancy cinematic tricks in the execution of this film, and it looks like a very hip, progressive horror – it doesn’t create suspense or dread, but instead presents this film as a colorful, fun film that just happens to be full of dead people. It was photographed beautifully to show the decaying artifice of suburban life, and draws heavily on some parrallels with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, another suburban horror.
I really did enjoy Suburban Gothic. It had some brilliant performances and a killer idea. It may not have been executed very well, but it did have its charms. It was never going to be a mainstream film, so I have no doubt that it served its purpose to be an obscure cult film, but hopefully it will find an audience that will love it as much as I wanted to. Still, I did quite like it and admire it for what it attempted.