Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Starring: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick
Words – Carly Stevenson
Cross-generational conflict takes a grisly turn in Richard Bates Jr’s latest offering Tone-Deaf: a chaotic horror-comedy that interrogates the mounting tensions between ‘millennials’ and ‘baby boomers’ in contemporary America.
The plot focuses on newly single and unemployed Olive (Amanda Crew), who decides to ditch the city for a weekend and head to the rural South for some much-needed ‘me time’. However, her host Harvey (Robert Patrick) has other ideas. Embittered by the loss of his wife to suicide and in fierce denial about early-onset dementia, Harvey hates everything Olive seems to represent: laziness, self-indulgence and liberalism. Similarly, Olive is deeply disdainful of Harvey’s traditional values and intolerant attitudes, which, unbeknownst to her, fuel his vendetta against the younger generation.
The audience learn about Harvey’s deceased wife through a series of fourth-wall-breaking monologues, which are, ironically, a bit like Fleabag, but for bigots. Also ironic is the fact that Harvey shares this trauma with Olive, whose father took his own life when she was a child.
Unresolved grief seems to be the only common ground between the two protagonists and the film emphasises this parallel throughout, with interesting implications about how people choose to deal with loss (or not, as the case may be).
Harvey is a novice when it comes to murder, so he practices on a few unsuspecting locals before turning his attention to Olive at the end of the film. What ensues is a darkly comical cat-and-mouse scuffle between two characters who embody the most noxious stereotypes associated with their respective generations.
In contrast to the title, which implies an inability to perceive differences in pitch, Tone-Deaf is alert to the cadences of post-modernity. There is a certain ambivalence in its treatment of character that makes it difficult to root for anybody, which is, perhaps, the point.
Offbeat in humour, cynical in tone and inconsistent in its use of imagery, Tone-Deaf is unlikely to be a crowd-pleaser; however, its satirical take on the politics of aging is undoubtedly timely and Bates Jr. tackles this subject without condescending the audience.