Sometimes, even the prospect of facing down angry, vengeful ghosts is less terrifying than having to move back in with one's raging asshole of a father. This is the situation facing the paranormally-inclined hero of deadpan horror comedy Suburban Gothic.
The spooks that haunt Suburban Gothic take a distinct back seat to its human characters, who are so well-written and energetically acted they elevate what's otherwise a pretty formulaic paranormal tale into extremely enjoyable material.
We first meet recent business school graduate Raymond (Criminal Minds' Matthew Gray Gubler) as he's trying desperately to find a job so he won't have to move back in with his parents. Cut to: Raymond moving back in with his doting mom (Barbara Niven) and disapproving dad (Ray Wise, who's hilarious), a casual bigot who's far more interested in his massive landscaping project than his fashion-challenged son.
If that wasn't enough to explain why Raymond was reluctant to return to the 'burbs, his first brush with locals — who remember him as the "fat as shit" kid they loved wailing on in high school — offers further explanation. Fortunately, he's saved from a nostalgic ass-whuppin' by another blast from the past, bartender Becca (Kat Dennings in full goth mode); they bond over their bad-idea tattoos (hers: "Suck my dick;" his: "Trust no one") and she asks him, "Are you still into that paranormal shit?"
Funny you should ask, Becca, since Raymond's ability to communicate with the spirit world has recently returned with a vengeance. It kicks into extra high gear after the yard crew that his dad's been employing to perfect the lawn stumbles across the body of a young girl buried in a crude wooden coffiin. Someone doesn't appreciate the girl being disturbed, and they're making it known through late-night visitations that are illustrated by so-so CG effects. It's up to Raymond and Becca to figure out what the ghosts are after, ASAP please, since as Raymond sighs, "This is a really bad time for a haunting."
Suburban Gothic's ghost-that-demands-closure plot is familiar (see: Stir of Echoes, etc.), and its script, co-written by director Richard Bates, Jr. and Mark Bruner, tries hard but can't quite sustain its cheeky tone to the end. But the film is populated with such unconventional personalities (and some outstanding cameos from the likes of Jeffrey Combs and John Waters; the latter gets to deliver the line "Give me a blowjob, and you can have the skeleton") that the story feels fresh. Gubler, in particular, is clearly having a blast with his oddball character, whose interactions with the supernatural are only slightly more terrifying than the constant back-and-forth with his football-coach dad. One scene in which Wise's character casually insists to his son that he has a deep understanding of meth is quirky, straight-faced perfection.
Dennings plays the same girl she always plays — wry, dry, and not afraid to tell a guy to stop staring at her boobs or inform him that "you just dug yourself a vagina grave" — but it's hard to complain, even if Becca and Raymond's romantic chemistry doesn't exactly leap off the screen. But this is Gubler's movie; he's a hugely likable actor who manages to make a guy who wears either a scarf or an ascot in every scene someone you want to root for.