I can’t say that horror is my favorite genre of film. I don’t tend to see horror movies in theaters and the only ones I watch at home are the kind of made for t.v. messes that are fuel for comedy. But when I had the chance to attend a premiere screening of Suburban Gothic in Chicago, I took the chance because the director was going to be in attendance and it starred Matthew Grey Gubler and Kat Dennings—actors that I love.
I left with the impression that Suburban Gothic is probably going to be my top movie of the year.
The movie follows the endearingly eccentric Raymond (Gubler), who can’t find a job despite his MBA. He also has the ability to see ghosts since he was a child, but his non-believing parents kept him on anti-psychotics. Raymond resigns to move back in with his parents after he’s unable to pay his bills. Unfortunately, his move home coincides with the beginning of a reign of terror by a spirit whose grave was violated. Raymond ends up working with local bartender, and badass, Becca (Dennings) to put the spirit to rest and save the town—while trying to avoid his family as much as possible.
Like many indie movies, Suburban Gothic has a mish-mosh of strange characters that are inclined to participate in even stranger behaviors. Raymond navigates this surreal world with deadpan humor and an incredulous expression. Even though he’s the one who every views as crazy, he comes off as the most grounded character in the film. Films with smaller budgets can be hit-and-miss when it comes to side characters, but even the minor characters of Suburban Gothic are well cast and well-acted.
Suburban Gothic blends its dry comedy with the scares of the ghost story well, and it doesn’t feel strange to be laughing one minute and cringing the next. I think that a lot of horror movies lack flavor—they have flat, one-dimensional characters and nothing memorable but how much gore they get on screen as quickly as possible. But the characters and world of Suburban Gothic had me instantly invested, so when one of the characters was in danger I actually cared if they would be harmed or not.
The cinematography of the movie was charming—color schemes were bright, Raymond dressed in silly, but suiting, outfits to differentiate himself from the suburban life he tried to escape, and each scene felt carefully attended to.
What impressed me most with Suburban Gothic was something the director, Richard Bates Jr., mentioned when he made a short speech after the showing. He said that when he was writing the script, he was determined that there would be “No boobs and no blood.” This, of course, made it hard to find funding since he kept being told that his movie would be more appealing if he included nudity and gore.
Part of what keeps me from liking horror movies is just that: boobs and blood. There always seems to be a woman getting murdered right after the camera closely follows her undressing. I find a problem with this not because it is an unnecessary and tired trope, but because it associates women in sexual situations with violence. I may be a psychology major, but you don’t have to be to understand that it isn’t the best association to have. I also don’t find gore and blood that compelling as a scare factor; I prefer drawn out tension.
Surburban Gothic’s commitment to this ideal means it won’t be the movie for everyone, but it is the movie a lot of us have been waiting for.
I could go on and on about little places where Suburban Gothic avoids irritating stereotypes of popular media—the main character doesn’t try to convince the girl to sleep with him when she says she’s not in the mood, there’s a scene where a woman who strips online is viewed and treated respectfully, Raymond is effeminate but no one makes a joke about him maybe being gay—that makes it one of the most appealing movies I’ve seen in a long time.
If you are someone who wants to like horror movies, or wants a fresh type of horror movie, Suburban Gothic won’t disappoint you. The movie doesn’t have distribution yet, but once it does, you should check out this progressive horror movie.