Though well educated, Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) is unable to find work in the city. He is however, able to talk to ghosts. When he is evicted from his apartment he has to move back in with his parents in the suburbs. The only person he meets and feels any affinity with is the local barmaid Becca (Kat Dennings). After the gardeners uncover an old grave in his parent’s back yard, unleashing a vengeful ghost, Raymond and Becca try to appease the ghost and end its haunting.
Writer/Director Richard Bates Jr. follows up his black horror comedy Excision with another horror comedy. Suburban Gothic however, is something much lighter and fizzier. The film leans a lot more towards the comedy genre, jettisoning the blood splattered gore and particularly dark humour of his first feature, and Bates Jr. has crafted an extremely funny and entertaining movie, that is a worthy follow up to Excision. A recurring theme in Bates Jr.’s films seems to be that of the child rebelling against their family, a unit which they don’t fit in to and just can’t relate to. Once again he nails this feeling with his main character and mines it for humour as Raymond struggles through living with his family and struggles to find anything worthwhile in the small town in which he grew up, where nothing has really changed. The people of the town seem to have stagnated and remain stuck, like his high school bully who continues to bully him now that he is back and his cousin who is still trapped in the town, ousted because he is gay. It is a simple town of prejudices where everyone acts like everything is fine but they have dark tendencies barely contained underneath. Shades of racism and homophobia turn up, the film always poking fun at the racist or homophobe and their old fashioned ways.
The greatest pleasure of Suburban Gothic is its characters, all gamely played by the cast. Gubler is a delight as main character Raymond, all snappy comebacks and withering patience at being stuck in his old town but who is also a character who, sometimes mistakenly, sees himself as better than the people around him. Dennings is fun as Becca the Goth girl still stuck in the town bar, serving the idiots who live there. She is sassy and strong, beating down any preconceptions of just being a love interest. However, it is Ray Wise as Raymond’s father, Donald, who really steals the film. He is the high school football team coach who is constantly disappointed by Raymond, especially his dress sense, and is vocal in his opinions of his son. Donald is the sort of bullish father figure, with shades of racism and homophobia, that you could find in many a small town and Bates Jr. gives him most of the best lines and it is always a pleasure to see Donald and Raymond sparring’s of words around the family house.
The film is never really a horror, its plot really an excuse to bring all of these characters and funny dialogue together. Its ghost story plot is nothing original and really verges on parody a lot of the time, but it is not in the plotting that you will get the most entertainment out of this film.
Richard Bates Jr. has made a brilliant follow up to first film Excision. Entertaining, fun and, most importantly, laugh out loud funny, he has created a cast of oddball characters who are a pleasure to watch.