Looking for something interesting? Look no further than She’s Allergic to Cats, a surrealist Comedy from Writer/Director Michael Reich (Cats 2012, Video Town 2013) set for release on VOD Tuesday, April 7th via Giant Pictures.
Initially cropped up at film festivals like Fantasia International and Oldenburg International in 2016, interestingly enough, Reich had previously worked as a dog groomer before directing music videos for the likes of My Chemical Romance and Bad Religion. So, the former dog groomer-turned-filmmaker made a feature film about a dog groomer hoping to be more than that. It is a semi-autobiographical piece with some flights of fancy.
The story follows Michael Pinkney (Mike Pinkney: Normal Community Theater Presents Les Miserables 2013, PICNIC 2019) who is stuck with a low-end job that barely funds his cheap home in Hollywood. His only escape from reality are his analog video experiments, which mirror his literal escapes from reality as his mind wanders. Things change when he meets Cora (Sonja Kinski: Diamond on Vinyl 2013. Dark Hearts 2014), the girl of his dreams. He manages to get a date with her, but that is when things start spiraling out of control as real life and fantasy get mulched together.
It sounds wild, but does She’s Allergic to Cats live up to its premise? Or will viewers soon find themselves allergic to it? They might find out as soon as it starts, as it does not waste time setting a tone. Never has dog grooming looked more like a lost murderer’s secret VHS tape than in this film’s intro. It is one of many examples of the title character’s video art, done through the power of camcorders, electro music and dim neon colors. Indie, shoestring-budget filmmakers from the ’80s and ’90s may feel particularly nostalgic on seeing it.
But this is not just an affectation to show off old school effects rigs. The whole film is low-resolution, mixing between slightly better videotape quality for reality and cheap-end camcorder for the video art and dreamscapes. One would almost think it is a period piece until a character called Honey (a debuting Honey Davis) refers to the internet and Wikipedia. This and other hints reveal the setting to be modern day.
What about everything under the surface? In its basic structure the film is akin to 1963’s Billy Liar– young man copes with life by breaking from reality into dreams, then he meets a girl and things get more complicated. But that film was a breezy romp. Pinkney’s Mike is an awkward, easily distracted nerd living in squalor trying to get his avant-garde film ideas off the ground to his producer friend Sebastian (Flula Borg: Pitch Perfect 2 2015, Ralph Breaks the Internet 2018). The setting is grim enough, and it is made grimmer still with the eerie music, surreal visuals and odd audio effects.
Additionally, Pinkney’s Mike does come off as a sympathetic figure as he tries to deal with his literal animal interests- the rats in his house, the dogs at his work and the cats in his dreams. He also has problems that go beyond being a “manbaby” with weird ideas. Still, Pinkney and the film leave the audience curious enough to see whether he overcomes said problems or not. Especially when Kinski’s Cora dares him to go beyond his limits. The film may be worth seeing just to see how this odd, uneven pairing bonds. It avoids being a typical meet-cute in favor of being a meet-WTF.
All this said, She’s Allergic to Cats is not particularly funny. It has the elements that typical Hollywood comedies have- quirky side characters (Borg’s Sebastian, Honey Davis), quirky side plots (a missing dog), quirky dialogue about old films (remember the duck boobs in 1986’s Howard the Duck? You do now!). Yet they do not really elicit laughter as much as concern. These quirks do not offset the surreal dark tone and disturbing elements that run through the film. If anything, they highlight them further. It might have worked better being sold as an avant-garde drama, then one would not expect to chuckle about things.
So, is She’s Allergic to Cats good? It is certainly interesting, artistically and otherwise. The acting and direction succeed at capturing the audience’s eye and drawing an emotional response. It is just more likely to be worry, dread and fear than laughter. Those with a low tolerance for weird stuff will hate it from the first minute, let alone first hour. But those looking for literally anything different from the norm may find something here. It just will not be particularly mind-blowing. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives She’s Allergic to Cats 3 out of 5 stars.