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Suburban Nightmare   B-

ei Independent Cinema

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jon Keeyes
Writers: Jon Keeyes, Debbie Rochon
Cast: Trent Haaga, Brandy Little, Haydon Tweedie, Kimberly Grant.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

A pitch-black tragicomedy that depicts a once-loving marriage as it crumbles to pieces, Suburban Nightmare might have been an insightful and resonant satire on relationships if only it didn't lose its way in the end amidst all the carnage. It starts off well enough. Trent Haaga and Brandy Little play Charles and Deborah Rosenblad, a typical suburban couple who have the same squabbles that crop up in any long-term relationship. Of course, their fights are never really about what they're arguing over -- it's a constant power struggle, both of them jockeying for position. The fighting upsets their young daughter Becky (Haydon Tweedie), bedridden with the flu the night on which the film takes place. But Becky has a bit more to be worried about than the squabbling: her parents are serial killers.

The psychos-in-love thing isn't anything new, and the shadow of Matthew Jason Walsh's Bloodletting initially looms over the proceedings. Both films generate morbid humor by juxtaposing everyday lovers' spats with violence and death: We laugh because any couple could be having the Rosenblad's dinner-table argument -- and yet across the table their dinner guests are slumped over, dead, face-down in the tiramisu. Suburban Nightmare tries to get a bit too much mileage out of that shtick early on, and it quickly becomes more tiresome than amusing. Fortunately, it soon moves out of Bloodletting's shadow, finding its own groove as it gets to the heart of its central relationship. There's a scene at the end of the first act that's kind of lovely: After an argument, Deborah goes to the backyard, where Charles is burying a previous victim. Bathed in the moonlight, Charles says he's thinking about leaving. In the reaction shot, thanks to Brandy Little's wonderful, nuanced performance, we feel Deborah's heart sink and realize how much he means to her. "You can't leave. I won't let you," she says, more heartrending plea than demand. A quiet, touching scene, it's the calm before the storm.

And it storms. As the night rages on, the power struggle gets physical -- and increasingly violent. Poison, steaming-hot irons, baseball bats, butcher knives, and handguns all come into play, while the tone ranges from sneering domestic comedy to unbearably bleak family tragedy. It doesn't quite work all the time, but much of it has a queasy intensity that's tough to shake. Writer-director Jon Keeyes (American Nightmare) interjects the ill-fated night's action with several surprisingly tender flashbacks of the Rosenblads at much more loving moments in their relationship, which gives the movie its necessary emotional grounding early on. But as Suburban Nightmare gradually descends into sadism and violence, that emotional grounding slowly fades away, and by the exhausting, blood-soaked finale, it's tough to remember that it was even there in the first place.

Review published 06.29.2004.

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