Tone-Deaf (2019)
Tone-Deaf (2019)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Release Date: October 22nd, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Richard Bates Jr. Actors: Amanda Crew, Robert Patrick, Hayley Marie Norman, Johnny Pemberton, Nancy Linehan Charles, AnnaLynne McCord, Ray Wise, Kim Delaney




n Los Angeles, Olive Smith (Amanda Crew) spontaneously breaks up with her boyfriend (Nelson Franklin). But they’re both somewhat relieved; they weren’t a good match anyway. At work, Olive is unceremoniously fired, due to general insubordination (the boss isn’t too happy that she won’t reciprocate his flirtations). And she doesn’t even get to stay through the week for Free Lunch Friday. When her friends (Hayley Marie Norman and AnnaLynne McCord) attempt to console her that evening, Olive plays a few bars on the piano – horribly unpleasant notes that prove she’s utterly tone-deaf, though everyone around her is too kind to speak the truth.

Haunted by visions of her deceased father (Ray Wise), who hung himself when she was a child, and now coping with the loss of her boyfriend and job, Olive determines that she’s in desperate need of an exotic getaway. Her mother, Crystal (Kim Delaney), who lives in a commune in the country, coaxes her into the vacation as well. For the bargain price of $500, Olive rents an elderly man’s home outside the city for the weekend – and it’s a beautiful, castle-like abode. But owner Harvey Parker (Robert Patrick) seems a touch off, not because of the comments about Edith, the wife he just lost, but because of an introductory sequence in which he talks directly to the camera, as if viewers are all substandard, cowardly, ungrateful young whippersnappers.

“Oh you’ll do just fine.” The home is massive and empty – save for the jarring appearance of Agnes (Nancy Linehan Charles), an unfriendly old woman who intruded into the building to water the plants. It’s not the first of the formulaic jump scares, and it’s certainly not the last; every few minutes, something lashes out at the screen or passes by unexpectedly, always paired with screeching noises. To mix things up a bit, Harvey, too, is plagued by disturbing nightmares/daymares, some involving his lost family members, others resembling bizarre, colorful art installations with semi-nude models writhing about.

As it turns out, Harvey is a complete wacko; due to mental traumas of his own, as well as creeping dementia, he’s depressed, bitter, confused, and homicidal. His character is also intent on conveying a distinct displeasure with today’s youth, intermittently breaking the fourth wall to criticize and comment on the audience’s inferiorities compared to older, wiser, tougher generations. In a strange twist, Harvey struggles with focusing on his goals – chiefly, to kill Olive (and fulfill a growing bloodlust). That lack of conviction actually bedevils the entire film; as the plot zigzags between a psychological tormenter, a home invasion thriller, a ghost movie, a violent slasher, a horror comedy, and even a relationship drama, it never seems to know where it’s going (or remembers where it’s been). It has no unifying vision (despite the fact that it’s written and directed by the same person); it could be said that the film itself is tone-deaf. This might be brilliant if it was intentional, but it only ever feels sloppy.

“This was never part of the plan.” Crew is fine in the lead role, and Patrick is a dependable psychopath. There’s plenty to explore just between these two. But “Tone-Deaf” insists upon stirring countless other subplots into the mix (along with supporting characters who behave nonsensically), steadily drifting further and further away from the sensibility of a survival horror picture. And even when it builds to that kind of familiar confrontation, it embraces trite devices – such as highlighting promiscuity, foul language, drugs, addictive technology, feminine individuality, lack of worldliness, and general rebellion as reasons that Olive needs to become a victim. Perhaps worst of all is that very little of it makes sense; “Tone-Deaf” continually ignores opportunities for logical explanations, defaulting on a blame game between baby boomers and millennials as a reason for a literal clash and showdown in a haunted mansion.

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10