★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
It’s mind-slipping conservative baby boomer versus self-absorbed liberal millennial in a fight to the death in this flawed yet intriguing horror comedy.
Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
If you are in the mood for a psycho killer movie that takes satirical jabs at current generation gaps and the division between left and right political leanings, Tone-Deaf attempts to deliver that. I say “attempts” because some elements of the film work, while others fall short, and writer/director Richard Bates Jr. never quite settles on a consistent tone.
Although the performances by both leads are terrific, the characters they are given to work with have the problem of not giving viewers anyone to root for. Amanda Crew stars as millennial Olive, who has just lost her live-in boyfriend and her job. On the advice of friends and her hippie aesthetic mother Crystal (Kim Delaney), she books a reservation at the country home of Harvey (Robert Patrick), an elderly conservative man who may be suffering from dementia, but who definitely wants to check off his bucket list item of killing someone to see what it feels like. Olive and Harvey are polar opposites in their belief systems, so much so that these two characters come across more as caricatures, with neither one being particularly appealing. Olive should be the protagonist, but her frequent complaining and unwise decisions make her hard to get behind. Bates Jr. has likely done this to show how both millennials and baby boomers, as well as conservatives and liberals, each have their own unique set of faults, but I’m of the mindset that a horror film protagonist needs to provide at least some reason to garner viewer support and sympathy. Several current horror films, this one included, are challenging that notion, though. We don’t get much backstory on Harvey, either, other than a family friend implying that he has always been a no-goodnik.
Although Tone-Deaf boils down to, and builds up to, a showdown between Olive and Harvey, Bates Jr. offers a good deal of twists and surprises along the way, with one taking us down a path that perhaps Harvey has softened his stance on Olive as he pursues another man who means to do her harm. These out-of-left-field sequences add a welcome sense of the quirky and bizarre, while visits to Olive from her deceased father (Ray Wise) bring some pathos to the mix, and scenes involving Crystal provide much of the comic relief.
There’s some breaking of the fourth wall that comes across as jarring and heavy handed, but certainly Bates Jr. meant for that. His pacing is occasionally erratic, with the proceedings going back and forth between serious horror and darkly comic elements, without either striking a nice balance or settling on one tone or another.
Tone-Deaf has a few flaws, but overall I found it consistently entertaining, with plenty of gore gags and acerbic wit on display, and well worth a watch.
Saban Films will release Tone-Deaf in theaters and On Demand on August 23.