Cate Jones’ Chicken House is a subversive comedy with a quirky sense of humor, giving the spotlight to three aspiring actresses who live together in Los Angeles. Beth (Jessi Kyle) is highly religious and decorates her room with biblical memorabilia. The affable and ungainly Charlie (Ashley Mandanas) identifies as a lesbian but struggles to embrace who she is. April (Kassie Gann) is high-spirited and reserves most of her time recording voice-over auditions.
Focused on their careers, the roommates never even tried getting to know each other. Communicating through passive-aggressive comments and behaviors, they merely try to follow the rules and not stir any conflict. Then, the incredibly eccentric Cat (Cate Jones) shows up on their doorstep one day. While Beth, Charlie, and April are wary of Cat’s cool, calm demeanor, she becomes their fourth roommate. Not long after moving in, Cat is convinced that an evil entity has infiltrated one of the rooms. But that is only one of many unusual moments, so it’s best to be prepared.
The movie begins in the present with the characters being interviewed about their experiences with Cat. But the majority of the story takes place during flashbacks of when they all lived together with Cat. In some of these scenes, Cat is nudging Charlie to embrace who she is and pushing April to channel more emotion for her auditions. But she gradually becomes a nuisance more than a friend as the film makes its way to a rather surprising conclusion.
“While Beth, Charlie, and April are wary of Cat’s cool, calm demeanor, she becomes their fourth roommate.”
Uniqueness is what best describes the writer-director’s experimental comedy. Inheriting a strange, albeit muddled narrative and an uncanny tone, Chicken House won’t be for everyone. However, the humor is effective by virtue of a cast that is extremely comfortable and skilled at being awkward with each other, even if the scenes don’t always flow together. Kyle, Gann, Mandanas, and Jones deliver exceptional performances as roommates who have their own peculiar traits. Jones, specifically, is immensely amusing as the one who gets under everyone’s skin. Her motives are always so enticingly unclear.
Throughout, Jones manipulates the structure and color to uphold an odd, off-putting vibe that originates from Cat’s presence. During the flashbacks, Jones employs black and white photography to amplify the strangeness of everything they experienced while living with the inscrutable Cat. Watching Beth, Charlie, and April gradually become frustrated with Cat makes for oddly comedic moments that fit with the whole vibe Jones is going for.
Chicken House is not only darkly funny but visually and technically impressive, especially for an indie film made on a paltry budget. While the plot is often needlessly vague or seemingly disconnected, the filmmaker’s vision is something to behold and admire.
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"…not only darkly funny but visually and technically impressive..."