The Hulu-based deep dive into cinematic obscurity continues this Monday with 2014’s Suburban Gothic, a film broadly in the “comedy horror” genre. It’s roughly in the same vein as 2020’s Love and Monsters, but it’s much quirkier, a la John Dies at the End (2012). The presence of Kat Dennings as the sidekick/love-interest—a latter day, gloomier Zooey Deschanel, and a prefiguration of Aubrey Plaza—further drives home the hipster credentials of this oddball little flick.
Needless to say, I loved it.
Suburban Gothic follows the story of Raymond, a recent MBA graduate who has reluctantly returned home to live with his doting mother and distant, aggressive, dismissive father. Raymond is clearly an eccentric with no filter, wearing loud, daring outfits (including scarves and ascots) and mouthing off with dry sarcasm, even in the face of a beating (which he always manages to evade with quick thinking and elementary school distractions). He’s so flamboyant, in fact, that most of the characters in the film think he’s a homosexual—which I was definitely wondering. The answer, improbably, is no.
Raymond was a chunky child in high school, and is remembered as such. He also had the ability to see and, in some limited ways, to communicate with the dead. That power slowly begins to return as he comes back home—and after his unscrupulous family doctor stops prescribing Raymond his “blood pressure” medication due to Raymond’s father’s lack of payment.
Into this unhappy, stultifying milieu Raymond stumbles upon Becca (Dennings), who is now bartending at a local dive. The two weirdos find themselves spending more and more time together as an odd, supernatural menace comes from Raymond’s backyard. It is there that a team of Mexican landscapers discover a coffin, containing the remains of a young girl. The leader of the work crew, Hector, snatches a necklace from the deceased girl’s resting place, unleashing a vengeful spirit.
Raymond begins experiencing visions of the girl and her parents, who were killed in California’s Wild West days. Gradually, Raymond and Becca realize that the girl is seeking the return of her necklace, sparking a supernatural quest to find the now-missing Hector and to return to the girl her necklace.
The film is a bit uneven throughout, but thoroughly enjoyable. The best parts aren’t so much the supernatural portions, which are fine, but the awkward family dynamics Raymond experiences upon returning home. Anyone who found themselves freshly out of college with no job prospects in the early part of the last decade will understand the peculiar state of arrested development that comes when an ostensible adult must return to live with his parents.
The mystery of the film also builds during that first section, drawing the viewer into Raymond’s odd, suburban southern California. Unfortunately, the film loses some of its zaniness, attributing to that sense of uneven tone. The horror portion isn’t particularly scary, but it loses the punch of the first half of the film.
There’s also the usual bourgeois bashing and anti-suburban tropes present in any film that deals with middle-class life in America. The dad—who is truly horrendous, and clearly hates his son—is a football coach who “teaches” Social Studies (well, that’s not inaccurate…) and is involved in various shady deals. The mother is quite sweet and cares about her son, but is depicted as bored and lost in fantasies about Hector, the missing Mexican landscaper. Everyone who stayed in the town is a loser, still stuck in high school (actually, that’s true sometimes, too).
Those criticisms aside, I really enjoyed this movie—it’s concept, it’s tone, it’s characters. The flick sets it up for a sequel, though I don’t anticipate any such product will ever emerge.
Well, sometimes one is enough. Check out Suburban Gothic on Hulu.