Air BnB is becoming more and more common. Personally, I’d much rather stay in some weird, unexpected home than in some generic Motel 6. If you’re a little curious, it might be perfect too. What sort of person lives here? Who in the world listens to these records? Whoa, that’s one hell of a VHS collection. Like they say though, sometimes curiosity kills the cat. Tone Deaf is a gory, comedic look at just how wrong things can go when we step foot in a stranger’s home.
Harvey (Robert Patrick of Terminator 2: Judgment Day) has a beautiful, old home in the countryside. He likes things a certain way and doesn’t care much for modern society. This makes him the perfect caretaker for such a home and makes the home the perfect spot for an Air BnB. He sees this, he knows this, he’s resistant, but he finally gives in just in time for Olive’s trip. Olive (Amanda Crew of Silicon Valley & Final Destination 3) recently lost her job and needs to escape to a place just like Harvey’s home.
“Tone Deaf is a gory, comedic look at just how wrong things can go when we step foot in a stranger’s home.”
Olive is young, from LA, and until recently, worked for a trendy fashion design studio. Put that all together and what have you got? You have a person someone like Harvey simply cannot relate to on any level. While Olive sees this as the perfect escape from her personal crisis, Harvey isn’t enjoying it at all. To him, Olive represents everything that’s wrong with the US at the moment. To him, she’s entitled, lazy and ungrateful. Harvey comes to the conclusion, Olive’s gotta go. Harvey doesn’t want to rid his home of her; he wants to ride the world of her. Can this millennial survive this boomer?
While both of the leads are great, Robert Patrick is the load-bearing wall of this cast. He turns in a performance that seems rooted and personal in a movie that is neither. Tone Deaf comes up short at times and runs a risk of being a one-note affair but Patrick saves the day. You can really tell he dug deep into this character. He brings an A+ performance to a B+ movie. He is vulnerable and scary as hell simultaneously. This gives his character and the movie as a whole much more weight and substance than it would otherwise have.
Cinematographer Ed Wu (Sleight) takes an approach that is my absolute favorite and can be seen in the works of Wes Anderson and Sergio Leone. This approach is to create a quiet tension through the arrangement of objects and people on screen. While there are little bells and whistles, the emotion is achieved through symmetry and asymmetry. The camera moves slowly, has a rich depth of field and the objects and characters are arranged in such a way as to make the audience member either at ease or uneasy. It was a great choice and worked perfectly.
A good director is someone with a vision for how things ought to be pulled off. It’s weird to think of someone like Tarantino or Coppola being little more than a master of logistics, but it’s true. Robert Patrick can give an earthshattering performance, but if the audio is terrible, it won’t matter. The cinematography can be legendary, but if the lighting is bad, it won’t matter. The director is the person who figures out how to make it all happen and all work. When you have a lower budget film like this, it is extra impressive to see a director do so well. When the budget is big and you have elite talent, a director can delegate more. With a low budget, not so much. This is why it is so impressive that writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. (Excision, Trash Fire) created a gorgeous, effective movie on a minimal budget.
“While it can get a bit heavy-handed at times, in the end we get a gory satire with something to say.”
Much like Serial Mom, this movie uses comedy and gore to give commentary on ‘society’ and where it’s headed and the choice of the villain speaks volumes about the perspective of the filmmaker. John Waters made the stuffy, uptight society type the villain but in our current socio-political climate it’s no surprise the villain is the boomer. In fact, star Robert Patrick said he tried to embrace being over 60 and fully accept his place in that generation to create the ultimate villain. Certain pieces of dialogue between this old cat and young mouse make this commentary clear.
During a tense exchange, Harvey tells Olive that killing her and people like her would be a “service to the country”. When Olive gets control, though, she talks about his generation “bankrupting the country” and “destroying the environment” and how she just can’t let that happen. While it can get a bit heavy-handed at times, in the end we get a gory satire with something to say. Tone Deaf is well shot, well-acted and very well done.