05th Oct2019

Grimmfest 2019: ‘Tone-Deaf’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Robert Patrick, Amanda Crew, Kim Delaney, Hayley Marie Norman, Johnny Pemberton, Nancy Linehan Charles, Ray Wise, AnnaLynne McCord | Written and Directed by Richard Bates Jr.

tone-deaf-poster

The latest genre opus from Richard Bates Jr., whose previous work includes Excision, Trash Fire and Suburban Gothic, Tone-Deaf tells the story of Olive (Amanda Crew), a millennial working in the fashion industry who decides to vacation in the countryside to spend a quiet weekend alone after losing her job and having her last complicated relationship implode. She makes the mistake of renting a country house from a complete stranger online, old-fashioned widower Harvey (Robert Patrick), who – seemingly succumbing to dementia – struggles to hide his pyschopathic tendencies…

If you’ve ever seen any of Richard Bates Jr.’s film before you won’t be surprised to discover that Tone-Deaf features his usual style of imagery strewn throughout. The sequences in which Harvey’s twisted mind tortures his sleep reminded me very much of the bold, stark visuals of Excision. They have the same striking mise-en-scene and disturbing, obtuse, imagery which work together to somehow confuse and terrify at the same time.

Whilst it opens with Bates’ signature humour, it’s not long into the film that there’s a brilliant fourth wall breaking dialogue, spoken directly to camera, from Robert Patrick’s character. It’s a sequence that really sets the tone of the the film – which is a deeply black comedy than walks the line between horror and laughs superbly. But then that’s often the case with Bates’ films, he seems to blend genres with much more ease than other filmmakers, nothing ever feels forced: not even the fourth wall stuff here.

That fourth wall “statement” from Robert Patrick’s Harvey in particular, which continues throughout the films, also sets up the underlying theme of Tone-Deaf (which is a particularly clever title once you know what this film is about – and no it’s not just because Olive is tone deaf to her own piano playing). For Tone-Deaf is actually a brilliant diatribe on baby boomers vs millennials; both of whom are “tone deaf” to the other, each thinking they’re superior to the other, each chastising the other for “mistakes” made by their generation.

Robert Patrick captures the attitude of the older generations looking down on todays youth perfectly, as does Bates’ script – you really feel like he has listened to older generations and quoted them verbatim. It captures the current culture-clash zeitgeist of “Make America Great Again” perfectly. For audiences in the UK it’s totally relatable too: the culture clash is all too familiar here thanks to the generational chasm Brexit seems to have had upon the country. Which gives Tone-Deaf somewhat of a deeper meaning this side of the pond!

In terms of performances, Robert Patrick is superb as the insane Harvey: you really believe (in part thanks to his previous roles) that he does feel the same way as his character. He embraces the crotchety old man inside him whilst also maintaining the kind of dangerous edge he brings to a lot of his roles. Meanwhile Amanda Crew does her thing with the usual aplomb. She’s brilliant as a snowflake heroine who manages, at the end of the day, to overcome her molly-coddled upbringing and survive the ordeal. he even comes to terms with her terrible piano-playing for gods sake! Honestly, I’ve yet to see Crews give a bad performance in ANY film she appears in – no matter the movie – and she does not disappoint here.

With a superb supporting cast, including Ray Wise, a ridiculous Johnny Pemberton, and a self-deprecating performance from Kim Delaney (and not to mention a cameo from Bates regular AnnaLynne McCord) Tone-Deaf is another slice of cinematic genius from Richard Bates Jr. If you’re not on the Bates bandwagon by now, you really should be!

***** 5/5

Tone-Deaf screened today, Saturday October 5th, as part of Grimmfest 2019.

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