'She's Allergic to Cats': Film Review

She's Allergic to Cats- Publicity Still - H 2020
Zach Driscoll/Courtesy Michael Reich
Less alienating than it seems at first glance.

Michael Reich's experimental feature follows a video artist's attempt to connect with his dream girl.

An experimental feature whose opening scenes will have many unprepared viewers searching for the exit, She's Allergic to Cats is not nearly as unfriendly as it initially seems. First-timer Michael Reich, director of music videos for Ryan Adams, My Chemical Romance and others, may revel in odd, off-putting passages and indulge in glitch-centric video effects; but the method to his mess comes into focus soon enough, revealing an eccentric but mostly comprehensible narrative of life on the margins. More intelligently made than most of the willfully challenging wannabe cult films it superficially resembles, it stands a chance of building a small following as it makes its delayed transition from specialty fests to digital release.

Mike Pinkney plays "Mike Pinkney," who moved to Hollywood to make movies but got stuck grooming dogs to pay the rent. He's doing that when we meet him — in a confusing close-up of a doggie bath, overlaid with a heavily accented voice purring "yessss, yessss." That would be Mike's boss, who occasionally pops up in the film to give detailed advice on world-class pet care. (The low point is a graphic reminder about expressing a dog's anal glands.)

Mike has dreams of remaking Brian De Palma's Carrie with a cast of housecats. (Hey — after Todd Haynes' Barbie biopic of Karen Carpenter, why not?) But until he finds the resources for that, he makes shortform video art in his living room, using televisions and video cameras to create looping, distorted images.

Reich's own approach is related: He shot the film on 4K with Red cameras, then grime-ified the hi-def footage by running it through a variety of older technologies. This proves to be less of an affectation than it seems, and in some moments — as when the image turns radiant when we first see a woman Mike longs for — it serves the pic's expressive needs well.

That woman is the darkly gorgeous Cora (Sonja Kinski, daughter of Nastassja Kinski and granddaughter of Klaus Kinski), who brings a dog to be groomed one day and shows a surprising interest in this sheepish, unhandsome man. Soon, Mike has a date planned with her; she even suggests meeting him at his place. If only his house weren't overrun with rats.

The film's thin plot mostly revolves around Mike's efforts to make himself and his abode halfway presentable for their date. Expressive video-art interludes capture his anxieties (cue close-ups of rat chompers) and his preoccupation with Cora. Unsurprisingly, his fantasies get far ahead of reality; without making a big point of it, the movie draws most of its (modest) suspense from the prospect that Mike will unintentionally sabotage his own romance.

A small cast with little to no experience onscreen brings an outsider-art vibe to the drama, but Reich's technical abilities and his sense of rhythm belie that. This is a strange and off-putting movie, but it's a movie — and one that some lucky weirdos are likely to watch many times.

Production companies: Normal, Subtractive
Distributor: Giant Pictures (available Tuesday on VOD and digital)
Cast: Mike Pinkney, Sonja Kinski, Flula Borg, Honey Davis
Director-screenwriter: Michael Reich
Producer: Anthony Baldino
Executive producers: Vaughn Hampton, Mike Pinkney, Michael Reich, Shannon E. Riggs, Andrew van den Houten
Director of photography: Zach Driscoll
Production designers: Matt Huish, Mike Pinkney
Costume designer: Ellen Johansing
Editor: Forrest Borie
Composer: Jonathan Mandabach
Casting director: Lisa Roth

72 minutes