Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Tone-Deaf

My notes on Tone-Deaf, which opens in the US August 23.

One of the slyest jokes in writer-director Richard Bates Jr’s black comic slasher movie is that it takes a serial killer with dementia to tell the pampered heroine a harsh truth she needed to hear a long time ago – that she really can’t play the piano.  Olive (Amanda Crew), a typical half-smart Los Ageles woman, throws out her whiny useless boyfriend (Nelson Franklin) – telling him that the whole man-boy thing is getting old – and is then fired by her promoted-above-his-ability sleaze boss (Ray Santiago).  She’s still troubled by the suicide of her loving, protective Dad (Ray Wise), whom she sees in visions, and is exasperated by her hippie drop-out Mom (Kim Delaney), who is off in a commune sleeping with teenagers.  On impulse, Olive books an Air BnB in the countryside for a weekend, and winds up in a mansion owned by Harvey (Robert Patrick), a widower who is losing his mind (but also his restraints) and has decided he should take this one chance to complete his set of worldly experiences by killing other people.

The plot, typically for Bates (Excision, Trash Fire, Suburban Gothic), takes weird kinks, as when Olive has a casual date with a guy who fumbles slipping her a roofie … and Harvey follows him home, to discover that he’s an active serial killer.  There are also many time-outs for subjective fantasies – in contrast with the dark, rural gothic look, Harvey’s visions of Blue Man-type art installations show vivid colour against blinding white – and odd bits of comic byplay that could have come from one of those dated man-boy movies Olive is skewering.  The climax has Harvey booby-trap his home with the last of his cunning, and Olive putting up a fight as her Mom ambles to the rescue, refusing to call the cops because she wants one chance to be a heroine in her daughter’s eyes (even at the risk of imperilling her life).

There are gruesome bits, including a gross-out involving a spider in a contact lens case, but even the bloodiest moments are alleviated by tart satirical bits.  As Harvey looms over Olive, she exclaims ‘you’re trying to kill me with … is that a tomahawk? Textbook cultural appropriation, man!’  Bates has a knack for getting great work from varied casts – his Excision breakout star AnnaLynne McCord has a bit role, and Crew gets the full workout as an unusual, infuriating, appealing heroine (spitting venom about baby-boomers while not exactly doing the millennial generation many favours).  Patrick invests his character with some pathos, but there are enough hints in the backstory to suggest that Harvey was a pretty ghastly guy even before his synapses stopped firing.



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