Suburban Nightmare has stayed with me since my initial viewing of the film. Not so much because it represents a tremendous leap forward in American cinema, but because of the contemporary nature of its scenario.
It’s not an unfamiliar scenario, either. In order to make some desperately needed extra cash, a suburban New Jersey family portentously decides to offer their guest room up to transient boarders. The family in question is your average American family (they always are in movies like this), stealthily harboring dark secrets underneath their status quo exterior, as it always tends to be the case with average American families in films like this.
“Malcolm…presents himself as the kind of person that parents would dream of their daughter bringing home. The joke’s on them!”
The family patriarch’s (writer-director Richard Halpern) recent unemployment has put the family into a financial crisis. As a result, the Mom (Sandra Rossi) has become increasingly resentful of her position as the nominal breadwinner in addition to homemaker, and doting mother to two kids. Daughter Paxton (Anastasia Hristidis – good, but miscast due to appearing much younger than her 19-year-old character) gives clandestine Internet stripteases for money on a sleazy website, and son Jake (James Paronich) is your typical precocious tween.
Their first boarding situation is idyllic: the boarder even elicits hugs from the family upon her leaving. The titular nightmare manifests in their next boarder. Malcolm (Malcolm Mills), a handsome, preppy young man, presents himself as the kind of person that parents would dream of their daughter bringing home. The joke’s on them!
This is the type of movie that telegraphs its intentions from the very beginning and where nothing in the film comes as any sort of a shock. What makes Suburban Nightmare effective is the ripped-from-the-headlines currency of its premise. With the ubiquitousness of home-sharing sites such as Airbnb, what might have started out as good intentions for some could inevitably end up as something far more dangerous.
"…captures a potentially terrifying circumstance of the zeitgeist."