The comedy thriller Tone-Deaf held its world premiere this month at SXSW, and it left me walking away with mixed feelings. Directed by Richard Bates Jr., there was a lot of potential this movie had to offer. Bates Jr. has previously made a name for himself with movies like Excision and Trash Fire, and the rising filmmaker will likely bring us many more interesting and unique movies in the years ahead. While Tone-Deaf has many of its own memorable moments, however, it's safe to say it won't be considered by many to be Bates Jr.'s best work.
In Tone-Deaf, millennial Olive (Amanda Crew, The Haunting in Connecticut) decides to take a vacation for herself by renting a weekend stay in a rural mansion, far away from her city life troubles. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize the widowed homeowner Harvey (Robert Patrick) is suffering from dementia, resulting in a homicidal psychosis. Determined to see what it feels like to kill someone, Harvey rents out his mansion to Olive with plans to sneak in later for a calculated murder. Leading up to that moment, however, Harvey gets some practice along the way.
Interspersed throughout different scenes in the movie are moments where Harvey breaks the fourth wall, staring directly into the camera. Each time he does this, Harvey gets a bit political with scathing rants about millennials, and how someone who represents them all, like Olive, deserves what he's going to give. Because the dialogue is so amusing, these scenes prove to be effective. Patrick's excellent performance also keeps the character menacing, in spite of the comedic quips he might be spouting about today's youth in these scenes. These moments also do not detract from the story, as these thoughts seem to be legitimately what's going through the Harvey character's head.
By the time Olivie becomes aware of Harvey's sinister plans, the movie starts to fall apart. Even when faced with imminent danger and even suffering from painful injuries, none of the characters seem to take the situation very seriously. As a viewer, you may be left unable to care whether Olive or other potential victims live or die, considering the characters themselves don't care either. It all feels very meta, much in the same way Harvey had addressed the camera when delivering his earlier monologues. Oddly, while that strangely made sense for Harvey and even added to the movie in a positive way, having so many other characters breaking the fourth wall was absolute overkill. It leaves very little room for any actual suspense or feelings of dread, as it completely takes away any suspension of disbelief for the viewer.
While the movie is not without its flaws, there's still plenty about Tone-Deaf for viewers to appreciate. Ray Santiago and Ray Wise were both hilarious in their limited roles, with a monologue from the latter serving as the best part of the movie. Other aspects, such as the acting and cinematography, are also top notch, and it's safe to say the movie isn't quite like anything else you've ever seen. It just feels that, ultimately, the movie just doesn't quite live up to its full potential. Some things work pretty well while others really don't at all, and it's likely to leave you with mixed feelings at the end. Watch it for a few laughs, but don't expect perfection. You can catch the movie when Tone-Deaf is released by Saban Films in limited theaters on Aug. 23, 2019.