New Indie Releases: She’s Allergic to Cats (2016) Reviewed

There is a moment in Michael Reich’s bizarre autobiographical comedic love story/horror film She’s Allergic to Cats wherein its extremely unlucky protagonist, Michael (Mike Pinkney) trips on a curb and falls headlong into a dog turd left on the sidewalk, just hours before he is to meet the girl of his dreams for a first date, covering him in the literal representation of where he’s at in life and cementing him as the butt of the joke in this weird montage of fantasy and cruel reality. It’s a telling moment that screams foreshadowing, even more so than the singular shots of a cat carrier on fire that pop up periodically throughout the film.

Michael is a pathetic everyman with aspirations of filmmaking; he came to Hollywood to make movies, but is instead grooming dogs in a strip mall, supervised by a man who speaks of animal grooming as though it’s an erotic or spiritual act. He creates what he calls “weird video art that no one wants to watch” while he wastes away in a rented house with a rat infestation. When, at the grooming salon, he meets Cora (Sonja Kinski), he falls immediately in love and decides to ask her out – but Michael’s life is determined to make every single experience a lesson in unnecessary difficulty, and as the film progresses, just how much of the narrative actually happens and how much is a part of Michael’s eroding psyche is left largely up to scrutiny. 

Animals in this film are treated as beings either to be revered or destroyed. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground for the characters, and it seems that the same values hold true for its humans. It’s made clear that Michael is at the bottom of the metaphorical food chain, much like the rats he decides he needs to extinguish by stealing a cat left for the weekend at the groomer’s and freeing her inside his house. His producer, an unusual German man named Sebastian (Flula Borg), refuses to help him fund his dream project – an all-feline version of Stephen King’s Carrie – and emasculates him at every opportunity. His property owner, Honey (Honey Davis) seems unmotivated to help with the rodents except to “go to Wikipedia”. He hasn’t had a real relationship in more than a year, so when Cora comes into his world, he immediately puts her on a pedestal, and her face begins to fade into his unusual, analog static dreams as his perfect woman.

And, in a sense, she is his perfect match – for she is just as awkward, peculiar, solitary, and vaguely off-putting as Michael is. There is a strange, sad sort of comedy to the entire story, as we literally are privy to the complete annihilation of this poor schmuck’s hopes that there just might be something better out there than crude video art and shirtless afternoons watching movies and getting Cheeto dust all over his mattress. They meet for an unorthodox date and immediately learn what makes them each so difficult to understand, and find kinship in the wretched aloneness they have been carrying with them throughout their lives. There are moments of admittedly beautiful connectivity between Cora and Michael – but they are, of course, drowned out almost immediately in the horror that ensues once the couple find themselves, at first tentatively, then hungrily, beginning to express that aloneness in an attempt at passion and physical closeness.

It’s difficult to say what, if anything, She’s Allergic to Cats is trying to say, as its narrative defies description and its characters are painted so broadly. Perhaps it’s a statement of nihilism, fueled by a belief that life is a parade of humiliations until we finally completely lose ourselves in the noise and static of madness in our personal hells. Perhaps it’s just a farce, delivered in Reich’s music video style, an opportunity to laugh at the constant failure that seems to happen when we’re trying our hardest to make something of ourselves. Or, perhaps it’s just an uncanny movie about how weird the duck boobs in Howard the Duck are, set to a backdrop of ungloved hands expressing the anal glands of various dogs to the music of Jonathan Mandabach in Suspiria colors. Whatever it is, it’s genuinely funny, the cinematography is visually arresting at times, and when a movie’s credits include “Various Rats”, there’s definitely substance worth checking out.

This oddest of love letters to the underdog – the human who comes in just under the companion pets he’s grooming – is completely out there, but what it gets right is its attention to the vague shyness of people who live inside themselves most of the time. Even the characters who believe they’re somehow better than Michael are, themselves, walking around with their micro-agendas; there is nowhere, this film suggests, that we can really go where the inherent weirdness inside the mind cannot follow. Especially if the rats in your house eat all of your bananas.

--Dana Culling