Although it was first released in 1989, The ‘Burbs is still as exciting and watchable as ever. Over two decades later, the film still confronts current issues, albeit slightly dramatised.
A black comedy/thriller, The ‘Burbs is set in a small suburban town, Hinkley Hills, and follows suburbanite Ray Petersen as he and his friends investigate the strange, new next door neighbours. Ray (Tom Hanks) starts to hear weird noises from The Klopeks’ house at night and, seeing as they never appear in the daytime, begins to investigate. Ray and his trusted friends start to believe they might be up to something untoward – cue 102 minutes of adventure that takes place simply in a cul-de-sac.
The cast line-up goes a long way in helping to make this movie so special. Tom Hanks is his usual self, bringing a healthy mix of sarcasm and charisma to the screen. His chemistry with on-screen wife Carrie Fisher is brilliant and they play a realistic, agitated married couple. She is pre-occupied with getting away from the suburbs for a holiday; he is completely enthralled and focused on what’s happening in his own backyard.
Bruce Dern plays the eccentric Lt. Mark Rumsfield, who is constantly dressed in his army gear and spends his days trying to keep his lawn pristine and safe from dog poop. Rick Ducommon is Ray’s slightly chubby best friend Art and Corey Feldman (The Goonies) is ‘rock wannabe’ Ricky Butler. The casting is so good because it is so awkwardly realistic. If I were to open my front door right now and look outside, I would see very similar characters trundling along with their daily lives. Taking out the rubbish, walking the dog or mowing the lawn – mundane daily chores are all covered throughout the movie. The mixture of personalities is just pure entertainment too. Ray is sensible but easily led astray, Art is simple, Mark is slightly mad and Ricky is just, well, Ricky.
There’s a good mix of light and shade during the film, with the Klopeks creating most of the shade. The family is quite spooky and made up of a doctor, a grumpy uncle and a pale, buck-toothed teen.
The movie is not only brilliant because of the cast but also because it manages to be highly entertaining despite its limited setting. The most adventurous shot in the movie involves Ray and Dr Werner Klopek (Henry Gibson) battling it out in a moving ambulance while their helpless neighbours watch on in disbelief. There are also some major action shots, including one of the last scenes where Ray and Art accidentally blow up a house. The majority of the film takes place within the cul-de-sac, on the street and in backyards. The scene inside the Klopek house is a rare insight into the strange neighbours. Despite the repetitive setting, the film has a way of making you want to join in with the conspiracies and uncover the truth.
The reason I love The ‘Burbs is not only because it makes me chuckle, it’s because it tackles so many endless themes. Normality, territorial threats, suspicion, paranoia and friendship are all explored. While there have been other movies based on suburban life (American Beauty, Neighbors, Moving) none of them do it as well. Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs is laced with intricacy, humour and is slightly spooky – so for me it pushes all the right buttons.
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