Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Housesitters

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

Directed by Jason Coffman
Tomorrow Romance
62 minutes, 2018

Man-oh-man-ohhhh-man! Though this is showing my hand way too early, what a fun ride. At just over an hour, this horror comedy that is partially shot on iPhone is short at just over an hour, but I happily watched it twice in a row.

In the story, some friends put a video out on the ‘Net that they are looking for a job as a housesitter (I know people who actually do this). Of course the house that comes their way is nice, has a platinum card for ordering food (and a lot of it)… and, oh yeah a Little Bastard of a demon’s familiar created by the horror puppet master himself, Dustin Wayde Mills.

Peter Ash, Jamie Jirak, Annie Watkins
At the core of the story are two friends, Angie (Annie Watkins) and Izzy (Jamie Jirak), who riff off each other so well that the actors playing them get a writing credit, and rightfully so. While the situation is supernatural and their reactions are hardly what would happen in the real world, the pace and tone of their comments feels like these guys actually are friends (I have no idea what their relationship is beyond the camera, of course).

This is a first feature (relatively speaking, length-wise) film for Jason Coffman, and I certainly hope it’s not the last, especially if he keeps Jirak and Watkins in tow; the three of them certainly make a strong team. There’s lots of pot, mixed drinks, and porn (the latter is not shown, just discussed while viewed off camera… yes, by the women).

There’s a lot to unpack, including demon possession, a small body count, the undead, a house with boundaries, time travel, and a whole bunch of smart-assitude that had me laughing. Joining the women are Izzy’s kinda lame boyfriend, Zach (Peter Ash), even though he is the most clear-headed of the group as far as the situation goes, Angie’s crush Mark (Ben Schlotfelt), and Zach’s annoying pal Dan (Jay J. Bidwell, who’s had one of the more extensive credits of a mostly newbie cast).

The film is presented in two parts of “Invocation of the Demon God,” as “Episode 7” and “Episode 8.” I have no idea what that means, but I know I want to see more. It’s separated by an animated short that…well, you have to see it. That being said, I know the whole mandatory September 11, 1991 prologue is necessary to the story, but it didn’t really do much for me. Oh, if I may digress for a sec, but it seems to me the actor (Mariah Michael) is not a smoker, considering how she never drags, just draws and blows; in some ways, that sets the viewer up to the goofy level. Anyway, that may be, however, because of the high level of the rest of the film’s – err – story, thin as it is (and rightfully so).

Don’t get me wrong, this is silly-ass shit, and perhaps the reason there is so much cannabis inhalation is because they’re feigning to a stoner audience, but it didn’t have to be, in my opinion; it stands up on its own weirdness and attitude. The acting is a layer of goofy with a natural relationship between the women, and a bit of skewed feminism thrown in at a subtle level.

What makes me sad about this film, and I’m being serious about this, is that I wanted more. The ending is a bit up in the air and left me with some questions, but what I wanted was the story not to end because I was enjoying it so much.

Little Bastard
However, what I especially enjoyed about the story is that it takes you in a direction you are probably not expecting, and yet it’s comfortable with the world in which it takes place. For a horror film that is not based on body count, gore, or even a realistic-appearing killing creature (but Little Bastard does look cool), and yet also is steeped in silly dialogue and actions even for stoners, it feels somehow right in this context, and doesn’t overreach. An hour is the right length for this – even though I wanted more – without padding it out to fill the time with, say, people walking around with flashlights for minutes on end, or seeing spooks in the mirror (man, I’m tired of that clich√©)¸or people in masks and sharp implements. It’s a bit of a different approach to an old theme, which is something one may not expect from a micro-budget broad comedy with horror elements. I’m grateful.

For those interested, the world premiere is at the Windy City Horrorama on April 28, 2018. As it was filmed in Chicago, it makes sense that the screening is at the Davis Theater.

This film is so much more fun than the 1992 Steve Martin-Goldie Hawn one with a similar-yet-singular name, and a fraction of the budget... but how did I miss the emu?

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