Richard Bates Jr. is a very interesting filmmaker to me: his debut horror film, Excision, was simply jaw-dropping and I consider it to be the best horror movie of 2012. The follow-up to Excision (Suburban Gothic, 2014), however, didn’t impress fans nor critics: while not as fantastic as Bates’ first film, I found Suburban Gothic to be a brilliant satire/horror picture that’s vastly underrated (it even made my best horror films of 2014 list).
Five years after his last horror flick, Richard Bates Jr. went back to his first love with the horror-comedy Tone-Deaf, which is now available on VOD worldwide. Again, Tone-Deaf received quite a bad response from critics and audience members alike.
This movie is about the relationship/fight between Olive (Amanda Crew) and an eccentric widower named Harvey (Robert Patrick). Olive flees the city for the weekend, escaping to the countryside for some peace and self-reflection. Harvey’s homicidal tendencies and hatred for young generations, though, might ruin Olive’s plans…
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Unfortunately, Tone-Deaf hasn’t been received positively so far, which I’m kind of surprised by. Not to say that this is a great film (it feels way less competent than Excision and Suburban Gothic), in fact I would agree on some of the criticism.
The main problem Tone-Deaf suffers from is its tone-death (terrible pun intended). Throughout the 86-minute-long runtime, this movie combines so many different elements that the result feels a bit jarring and very much disjointed: parts of this film are dark and moody, others are colourful and bombastic; the cinematography ranges from wide to narrow and inconsistent; the horror factor relies on jump-scares and then, out of nowhere, turns into gore-fest. Indeed, this movie is rather jumbled and all-over-the place.
The inconsistent tone is reflected on the score which, despite featuring some great songs and fitting sounds, switches from one emotional intent to another like it’s nothing. The first act of Tone-Deaf, while really exhilarating (more on this later), features an insane amount of fake jump-scares that felt manipulative, cheap and corny. The last part of the film, instead, gets really sombre in such a way that clashes with the colourful, stroboscopic look of the rest of this picture. Finally, the overreliance on 4th-wall breaking felt very dated: it was quirky and funny in the 80s, early 90s, now it’s time to stop using it for comedic purposes!
Despite these flaws, which are admittedly quite severe, Tone-Deaf features many elements of quality that can’t be overlooked. First of all, this movie is consistent with Richard Bates’ filmography and has a clear, undeniable intent: the film aims to provide a dark critique of the bizarre cultural and political climate that currently exists. Subject matters like toxic feminism, contrast between new and old generations, surface-level care for the environment are touched upon, here, in a rather clever and satirical way. Personally, I mostly disagree with the message Richard Bates wanted to deliver with this movie, but I can’t deny how brilliant and subtle the presentation of this message is.
Also, as a horror movie, Tone-Deaf manages to be very violent and unflinching. This movie isn’t afraid to get weird and over-the-top with stubbing, strangling, kicking and slicing: however, not a single scene crosses the line to the point of becoming disturbing for mainstream audiences. Robert Patrick as the elderly villain conveys so much creepiness to the picture, due to his almost parody-level performance: his character is crazy, menacing, strange and very entertaining.
Much to my surprise, Amanda Crew as the lead girl holds the movie together in a wonderful way: I never liked her in any movie, to be completely honest, but here she shows a wide range of emotions and, mostly, she’s constantly hilarious. The small cameos by the always-charming Ray Wise and the always-gorgeous AnnaLynne McCord are also poignant and very comedic. In fact, I found the whole film to be extremely funny and entertaining. Bates wrote some brilliant dialogue filled with dry humour (which I love) and directed his actors in a way that made every line delivery perfectly timed and effective. Yet, the director understood visual comedy and provided the audience with some clever visual gags that you may or may not notice.
Despite its jarring tone, this film looks great for the most part: aside from the unnecessary dark and poorly lit ending, Tone-Deaf is a bombastic and vibrant picture that benefits from astounding shot composition, gorgeously-looking dream sequences and lively camera-work.
Overall, Tone-Deaf isn’t easy to sell: if you were to tell me you loved the movie, I would be fine with that; if you said you hated it, I would be fine with that too. In other words, I can understand why some people might love it and some others might find it annoying and bad. This is not a great film but, regardless of its objective flaws and a few strange choices, I really liked it and I consider it one of the most entertaining viewing experiences I had in 2019. If you like the director’s previous work, give Tone-Deaf a go: you might wind up loving it!
Tone Deaf 6/10
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