Tone Deaf

Year: 2019
Production Co: Best Medicine Productions
Director: Richard Bates Jr
Writer: Richard Bates Jr
Cast: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Ray Wise

Somewhere in here is a slasher thriller about a creepy old guy (Robert Patrick) who intends to prey upon a young girl (Amanda Crew, of Silicon Valley fame) who's rented his house, AirBnB style, for a weekend. But to get to that, this movie throws a ton of other stuff – some of it deadweight, unfortunately – at you.

Olive (Crew) is an LA millennial who breaks up with her boyfriend and loses her job in short order, and her glamour/hipster friends convince her to get out of town for the weekend to take a break. On impulse she hires an ornate house in the middle of nowhere, figuring it can't hurt.

Once there she meets the owner Harvey (Patrick) who lives up the road. He's pleasant enough but has it in for people Olive's age. We find this out because when his character is introduced while standing over the grave of his beloved wife (who committed suicide) he breaks character to deliver a diatribe against millennials and their habits and ways straight to the camera – something that happens more than once.

If we're in any doubt about Harvey's true intentions for Olive, we see them when he ties his neighbour Agnes to the bed in his creepy shack and explains that while he's had a full life, there's one thing he's never done, and that's kill someone. Just when you think Agnes is going to be some kind of narrative foil or escape and save Olive in the nick of time, Harvey stabs her to death and leaves her there, her dead body becoming a kind of confidante and conscience for him in later scenes.

But nothing will sway him from his purpose of getting into the house and killing Olive, and it somehow takes the entire movie to lead to the climax where he tries to ensnare and torment her but where Olive has the chance to be the Final Girl of horror legend. That comes after weird asides like the tinder date who has nefarious plans of his own for Olive and who also falls victim to Harvey's psychosis (before long he's slashing his way through people like Jason Vorhees)

All that might have been a cool enough story – if a bit well-worn – but writer/director Richard Bates Jr has so much more to show you it ends up a steamroller of ideas that never connect and never let up, all of them overshadowing the horror story trying to happen at the centre of it all.

Olive's mother is a hippy who lives on a commune, somewhere she disappeared to after Olive's father (Ray Wise) killed himself when Olive was still a kid. Her and her wannabe beau ride into the plot at a very contrived moment, both of them comic relief completely at odds with Harvey and Olive's story and just one example of laughs and horror jostling uneasily against each other and getting in each others' way.

There's also Harvey's dream sequences, nightmarish avant garde art installations of him in a red boiler suit and characters in blue body paint in a stark white room that just pop up. There are the numerous aforementioned fourth wall breaks, edgy, angry music including a song that appears to be called 'Your vaj, my vaj' and a bizarre extended acid trip sequence where Olive talks to past boyfriends and her dead father for advice.

And above (or maybe behind) it all is a motif of her wanting to be a pianist her whole life but being terrible at it, which the title of the movie refers to. It's Harvey that finally tells her how awful she is (after knocking her out, dressing her in his dead wife's clothes and perching her at the grand piano in the parlour of the house), and it seems to provide some kind of conclusion to Olive's lot in life – either from dealing with her father's death or the psycho threatening to kill her now.

It might all add up to a grand allegory or satire of something, but the movie gives you no idea what it is. The likeliest candidate seems to be the generation gap, but Tone Deaf feels like every idea Bates Jr had was thrown into the script and forced to work together even though they have no businesses coexisting. Crew is great and Patrick is craggy and creepy, but they can't save this no matter how hard they try.

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