Full Disclosure: Jason Coffman, the co-writer/director of HOUSESITTERS, is a longtime contributing writer to DAILY GRINDHOUSE.
There is a streak of what I like to call “smart dumb” to HOUSESITTERS that could unfortunately be mistaken for either sloppy storytelling or technical incompetence. But when working at the obviously low budget that the film was made for, it makes sense to embrace the limitations that come along with that lack of funds and lean in to the no-budget aesthetic. So you get “smart dumb” gags like a bloodthirsty monster that is clearly a puppet, because the filmmakers cannot create said monster on their tiny budget. If that kind of straight-faced goofiness is your cup of tea, then this film is for you.
Izzy (Jamie Jirak) and Angie (Annie Watkins) are slacker best friends and roommates living in Chicago. Izzy is the only one who is gainfully employed (as a weed dealer, but it counts), so they scrape by taking housesitting gigs. It is during one of these gigs that things go sideways with the discovery of a pentagram drawn in blood on the basement floor and the tiny killer puppet monster that would not be out of place in a Full Moon production.
On to this paper-thin premise, Coffman and Jirak/Watkins (who also co-wrote the screenplay), hang any number of gags that range from naming varietals of weed after giallo and Andy Sedaris films to meditations on the assumption of evil versus the more nuanced reality on the subject of demons summoned by morons to understanding that ordering Korean takeout using a platinum card that does not belong to you is more important than anything else in the world in which the film takes place. These tangents (I am not saying anything abut my favorite tangent in the film because it is best left to be discovered by unwary viewers) are what make the film worth watching, especially considering that HOUSESITTERS takes full advantage of the sharp comic timing and chemistry between Jirak and Watkins.
The “smart dumb” aspect of the film may be a personal appreciation for me. As a writer about films that fall into the nebulous definition of the “grindhouse” arena, I watch a lot of low to no budget movies—both old and new. You can call it a cheat, but I take into account how much money was clearly spent on a film and balance that with the storytelling ambition (or lack thereof) on display. If a film has a little more money to pull off a technical slickness, but is lacking in creativity or energy, I tend to be harder on it than a film with a lot of rough edges that has half a brain and tries to exceed its budget with creativity and an “anything goes” attitude.
In the past, I’ve recommended movies like THE NEON DEAD and THE BLACK 6 because they had a clear sense of humor and an absurd vision to back it up. They were cheaply made and desperately in need of a polish, but there was an ambition on the part of the filmmakers that made them fun to watch—a sneaky sense of subversive humor that transcended the low budget problems and made them worth watching and enjoying. HOUSESITTERS falls into that category. All the technical shortcomings are a result of a super tight budget. But the film makes up for the rough edges with a smart sense of humor and a game cast that clearly enjoys the film they are making.
HOUSESITTERS is having its world premiere at the Davis Theater in Chicago this Saturday, April 28th at 3:45 pm as part of the Windy City Horrorama Film Festival. Tickets and full screening information can be found here.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)