Friday, April 27, 2018


by Patrick Bromley
When you're making a microbudget indie, you have to play to your strengths. This movie does.

Making any movie is hard. The more I learn about film, the more I read, the more I write, the more I get to know some independent filmmakers, the more I appreciate that every movie is a miracle. I don't have to like all of them -- and Xenu knows I don't -- but I have come to appreciate the effort and commitment it takes to get any movie made. This enlightenment has contributed to an unwritten rule I tend to have for my work at this site, which is that if I see an indie that I like, I need to be a mouthpiece for that movie and help it find an audience; if I don't like an indie, I need to shut the fuck up. Every movie is a miracle, and if I can't be a cheerleader for a movie, I at least don't want to stand in its way.
The fact that I'm writing about Housesitters, the debut feature from writer/director Jason Coffman (who, in full disclosure, is someone I know socially), means that I like it and want to help it find an audience. Made with a small cast, pretty much a single location and what appears to be very little money, Housesitters compensates for a shortage of resources by putting its best foot forward and leading with the things that don't necessarily cost money: a good script and likable actors. I don't necessarily need elaborate production design or expensive special effects so long as I'm engaged, and Housesitters kept me engaged for all of its brisk 62 minute runtime.

Angie (Annie Watkins) and Izzy (Jamie Jirak) are best friends who spend their days getting high and watching old porn on VHS. They take a job housesitting for a stranger who leaves his credit card and lets them order whatever food they want and enjoy his long as they can overlook the pentagram on the floor upstairs and the tiny demon that's trying to eat them.
That's the basic gist of the plot of the movie. Yes, a few other characters wander into (and out of) the story and there are a couple major twists -- none of which I will reveal here -- but Housesitters isn't what it's about so much as how it's about it. A horror comedy that's far more comedy than horror, Housesitters is best described as a hangout film, in that it's the kind of film in which I just want to hang out with the characters and enjoy being in their company. Annie Watkins and Jamie Jirak are both insanely charming, building a totally believable friendship in mere moments on screen together. They're laid back but fun, sex-positive and passionate about the things they're passionate about -- in short, they're the kinds of women we're friends with in life but don't see in many movies, least of all horror movies. Jirak has a tendency to overdo her reaction shots in a way that feels like she's commenting on the nature of reaction shots in a way that's totally amusing, while Watkins looks a lot like My Girlfriend ZoĆ« Bell and thereby earns my undying affection. They have great comic timing and deliver the very funny dialogue in a totally natural way. This is a movie that feels built in part out of improvisation, and the fact that both Watkins and Jirak get writing credit on the script leads me to believe that's the case.
With a solid script and really charming lead actors, Coffman wisely allows the movie to get out of its own way and doesn't try to force a bunch of unnecessary style the way many filmmakers will in their first feature. Of course that leads to a mostly point-and-shoot style, with characters sitting/standing around bullshitting with one another, but the form matches the content. This is a movie that knows what it is, right down to the obvious hand puppet used as the little demon monster that's killing people off. It's fun, the way the movie leans into its cheapness, conjuring up the spirit of old Empire and Full Moon movies. If there's one choice that leaves me scratching my head, it's the intermission that Housesitters takes halfway through for a computer-animated advertisement for a made up animated film in which a dog wants to be a building. I think the joke is that the animation is crude and that the premise is weird, but it goes on a little too long for my liking and breaks up a movie I was into. It does, however, have the best/only Playing by Heart reference I've heard in 20 years. Good on that.
I know there are some audiences who won't know what to make of Housesitters, because it's not slick or polished enough to resemble the movies they're used to seeing. Spending any time with the movie should help fix that, because funny is funny and likable is likable. Housesitters is both. I admire any film that's able to take stock of its strengths and put them to good use, which is exactly what Coffman and his cast have done. The movie is slight, yes, but it knows just what it is and just what it wants to be. The charms of Housesitters are hard to resist.

Housesitters makes its world premiere this Saturday, April 28, at 3:45 p.m. as part of the first-ever Windy City Horrorama festival at the Davis Theater in Chicago. Visit the official site for tickets and a full schedule.

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