There are good bad films - and then there are bad bad films. Sometimes there’s a guilty pleasure in watching trashy films; it can be a great escape for film lovers who are often inundated by lofty works of art. But there are other movies that are nothing more than a grind to get through - whether it be slow pacing, sloppy writing, overused stereotypes, poor production qualities, or a combination of the above. Horror is one of those genres that can easily slip into either category - but unfortunately, Richard Bates Jr’s (‘Suburban Gothic’, ‘Trash Fire’) latest film ‘Tone-Deaf’ is a horror in its execution only.
Olive (Amanda Crew, ‘Freaks’, ‘Sex Drive’, TV’s ‘Silicon Valley’) needs to get out of LA after a bad break-up with her fiancé. She road trips up to Piru for a quiet weekend away. She rents a secluded country house from widower Harvey (Robert Patrick, ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’, ‘The Faculty’), but it soon becomes obvious he’s no kindly old man. He’s out for blood - and once he gets the taste of it, there’s no stopping him.
The golden rule in horrors is simple: don’t reveal the big bad too soon. Having Harvey explaining his entire motivation like some B-grade supervillian is wholly unnecessary, and doesn’t offer any true rationale for his actions. All it accomplishes is alleviating any element of Harvey that’s mildly scary by portraying him as a grumpy old man. While all the characters here are drawn paper-thin, Harvey is positively transparent; he grumbles profusely about “millennials” ruining everything, but also shows resentment for events from his own life, including his childhood and marriage. He constantly breaks the fourth wall to wax lyrical to the camera in what feels like the world’s most irritating PSA. If I were Robert Patrick, I would be genuinely ashamed to be associated with this project.
Amanda Crew as our lead doesn’t fare any better. While she’s going for a ditsy young woman riddled with first-world problems, the comedy element of this trope never succeeds, only adding to the painful experience of the movie. Given nothing to work with - most of the time she’s solo in the deserted house - it’s little surprise this story is anything but a success. You sit through the first half hour of the film as the first act establishes everything and wonder: how can this possibly have another hour to go? The answer is with unbearably drawn-out scenes and wildly unrealistic plot points.
If I were Robert Patrick, I would be genuinely ashamed to be associated with this project.
There’s little that’s scary about this horror; the most tense moment is Olive walking down a staircase with nails protruding from planks of wood beneath her - but let’s be honest, ‘A Quiet Place’ successfully achieved that suspense in a classier, more entertaining package. Here, we’re forced to endure jump scares, bizarre dreams with no bearing on the story, and visions that could either be of some hellish manifestation or Harvey’s dementia. And as for that title? If you can bother sticking around for the explanation, the payoff is definitely not worth the pain.
‘Tone-Deaf’ has the story of a short film in the guise of a feature. It’s lazy, unoriginal, poorly written, blandly shot, and woefully acted. Any saving graces the film may have possessed - the comedic potential, unique storytelling elements, a respectable cast - are thrown by the wayside in favour of an outdated lesson on generational differences. What we’re left with is a pointless, dull, drawn-out attempt at horror. The only reason it’ll leave you screaming is out of boredom.