Tone-Deaf [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (11th April 2020).
The Film

I can hear myself asking the audience, “Would you like an extra portion of creepy with that?” but my joke falls on deaf ears, as rightfully it should, since this is a situation that keeps repeating more and more often. Back in the day, if you managed to locate and sign a dreadful looking old castle, a director like Mario Bava could work his magic and he would deliver a delightful fright filled film that would be brimming with depravity and it wouldn’t cost that much as well. Nowadays, it seems that great locations are a dime a dozen, but the directors involved can’t seem to rise to the occasion and so here comes another film that Netflix will pounce on because they need to satisfy the home market demand and who cares if the film blows chunks, just play the damn thing and be satisfied. Well, not me chum. No sir, I am a discerning viewer and that’s why I am here doing battle with the blank page and trying to discern a way to steer you away from this film that just doesn’t cut it. I mean that there’s nothing wrong with it overall, but perhaps if you are seeking a night of horror viewing than this mash-up of horror and comedy is a very tepid brew. My feelings on this is if you are going to do this then you need to really make the comedy black in tone and edgy and the horror needs to be the authentic thing, not something that you simply add when the inspiration strikes. Looking back on this film now, perhaps the director should have simply made it as a straightforward comedy and simply passed on the horror elements entirely. This of course is my opinion on the matter, and you can decide for yourselves.

Here is the basic premise: A Millennial named Olive (Amanda Crew) is the protagonist and within the first five minutes of the film she dumps her idiotic live-in boyfriend and loses her job. What this is supposed to make me feel is unknown, but I am already annoyed by her personality: she seems arrogant, unlikeable and self-obsessed. So much for a sympathetic heroine. I reckon that Richard Bates Jr. is playing fast and loose with the rules, but nonetheless that is how I feel. Where is the strong-willed individual that overcomes all odds and triumphs over evil? Maybe writer/director Richard Bates Jr. is using a new type of heroine in order to drive home a point about traditional sexism in horror films? I am not sure, but this is what we are shown. Listening to the advise of her friends and her hippie spirit mother who lives in a type of commune somewhere, Olive decides to make a decision that she will, of course, come to regret, and that is to take a vacation away from Los Angeles and rent a large (and I do mean large) beautiful house that she sees online. Harvey (Robert Patrick) the unseen owner of said house is shown as being a reclusive stalker type as he sits at his computer trolling for victims. A quick search of the internet reveals that Olive is a young, white, female and that she is shown posing in front of an obscene spray-painted message. That’s good enough for Harvey and he immediately starts typing, naming the rental figure. When they finally meet, they eye each other with clear distain. Earlier we were shown Harvey in a small fenced off area that is where his wife is buried and we overhear him talking to her; then in a startling move, Harvey breaks the fourth wall and starts directing his comments to the audience. Essentially this is shorthand for character development: we hear Harvey’s gripping about today’s generation, and this clearly pegs him as a “boomer.” Yes, Harvey is clearly from “the greatest generation” and he tells us of his accomplishments. He has a worthless son that he doesn’t like, he has little regard for today’s youth and their egocentric ways, and he mentions that his son thinks that he has the signs of dementia. This segues into what will become a series of bizarre dream sequences that feature some anonymous lycra clad females with heavily made up features: see, we get to see what Harvey is seeing as well and basically the future is bleak and monotonous. These sexless figurines disappear before they can do anything menacing to Harvey and he wakes up to the reality of the current situation. We see where Harvey lives, and it is a ramshackle building down the road from the beautiful main house which only makes me ask why isn’t he living in his former home. Yes, I know, because it is filled with too many memories. Okay, again shorthand for character development. Instead of populating his film with authentic characters that possess full personalities and quirk, i.e. human beings, we instead are shown shallow paper dolls going through the motions, mouthing empty platitudes that the director believes will make us feel something for the characters on the screen. I am sorry if I am too demanding of an audience whereas I actually want to believe that what I am watching is actually happening, but I am not a member of today’s viewing audience. Nor do I side with Harvey’s cliché filled point of view either. And maybe that is the overall problem: Bates builds his film around a rather lame reference point: Boomers vs. Millennials. I mean, that was possibly topical several months ago and now just seems like a dated issue.

What really bothered me was the overt sloppiness of the script. Characters are briefly introduced and then killed off, like Agnes (Nancy Lineham Charles) or like Harvey’s son, who he calls on the phone repeatedly, enters the film, but then is completely ignored and his character’s sub-plot is totally ignored. Olive’s mother is another one joke reference, an aging hippie Crystal (Kim Delaney) living in a commune with a younger man chasing after her named Uriah (Johnny Pemberton); the running joke is that Olive was one of those children forced to take endless piano lessons and perform in recitals, but she doesn’t have a lick of talent, and no one has the heart to tell her the sad truth. Which I guess is how I feel about this film: a waste of a talented cast weighed down by a lifeless script, a foot in each world (comedy and horror) but neither side has enough clout to make a difference, and very few reviewers willing to take a stand and tell the director the awful truth: your film is a ho-hum experience lacking all the cynical sting that it foolhardily tries for. My advice is to try watching "Heathers" (1988) a few more times because that is a film that nails what you were trying to emulate. The only scene that did anything for me starred the ever delightful Ray Wise as Michael, Olive’s father who committed suicide, but shows up in a LSD flashback and tries to pass on some wisdom to his miserable daughter. Too bad your talents weren’t expanded upon because they certainly helped the film regain some of its snap.

The last 30 minutes of the film that pits weary, long underwear clad, Harvey against a myopic Olive is the best part especially when the director manages to insert some much needed black humor into the scene (shades of EC Comics) with Olive coming down the stairs and stepping on a large exposed nail much to Harvey’s delight. The two characters face off in a show down that perpetrates the two sides against each other, sort of like the ending of that classic western "Shane" (1953) with the supposed good side triumphing over evil. Salute to Bates for managing a "Shining" (1980) like moment when Uriah catches an axe to the chest. Hey, if you’re gonna steal, at least steal from the best.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.40:1 HD 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. The image was very good with the majority of the film occurring indoors; the outdoor scenes are very colorful and balanced. The scenes in Harvey’s liar were nicely nuanced with some great usage of shadows and dark areas.

Audio

A single audio track is included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. I cannot say that I am a fan of using offensive rap music as a manner of cheap shorthand to convey a character’s personality, but the soundtrack when focused on the suspenseful moments was surprisingly effective. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Lionsgate has included only a small collection of extras.

"The Struggle is Real" is a featurette (21:24) that includes interviews with cast and crew and scenes from the film .

Rounding out the supplements are a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "A Vigilante" (1:50)
- "Dead in the Water" (1:51)
- "The Command" (1:57)

Packaging

Packaged in a Blu-ray keep case with a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

I found the combination of horror and comedy lacking for my tastes, but bravo to Robert Patrick for wearing an ugly crew neck sweater and managing to try up the nasty quota nonetheless.

The Film: D Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: C-

 


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