Chicago is home to a lot of film history. A number of big-budgeted films were shot in full or in part in the city. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s film program is where art house directors, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, honed their craft. But the type of Chicago film history that is most overlooked is the output of regional filmmakers making low-budget, independent films like H.G. Lewis or Joe Swanberg. Jason Coffmann’s feature debut, Housesitters (2018), belongs to this latter category and is a mix between a stoner comedy and monster movie. If you are adventurous, and willing to look outside of major production locations like L.A. and New York, then you may have a great time with this comedy.
The plot revolves around two friends, Angie (Annie Watkins) and Izzy (Jamie Jirak) who sit around a lot doing drugs and talking about things of interest to young adults like relationships and sex. Izzy is a drug-dealer with an academic interest in old pornography movies. Angie is the more straight character, and the one to land a sweet job of house sitting a big house with unlimited access to a platinum credit card. She invites Izzy to the house to watch adult movies, take some drugs, and look around the house. Other people come and go as the movie progresses, including a puppet monster made by Toledo-based director Dustin Wayde Mills, and the house may not be such a great place as it seems, but it is best to go into the film fresh without knowing too much about the film.
The director choose to shoot mostly in one location, which works for the movie. Performances are pretty strong throughout, which helps the film work as well as it does. Coffman has scripted a film that is funny more on the dialogue than the action, and luckily the interactions are stronger than moments of horror. There is not too much violence and sex is implied rather than shown. If it weren’t for some of the topics raised by the film, and the language, the film would be suitable for everyone. Where the film has issues is the conceit of the film being episodes of a show, and the inclusion of an odd and crudely animated coming attraction trailer, doesn’t quite work in the film’s favor, but does add to the charm. The film doesn’t use a distinct format as masterfully as the excellent WNUF Halloween Special (Chris LaMartina et al, 2013) does, but it never distracts from the momentum of the story. The beginning of the movie didn’t grab me, but by the end I really enjoyed where the film went. If you can roll with it, you will enjoy your time as the film is an easy 63 minutes in length, and the ending makes up for flaws earlier in the film.
The charm of the acting and script make up for technical limitations (some effect shots look rough, and a few times the camera shakes as characters walk past it) and a weak opening act. The more movies you watch, the less patience you have for bad movies. Housesitters is not a bad picture; it is a first feature that shows promise. If you have seen low-budget comedies by Steve Rudzinski or others on Amazon, then you can imagine what this film feels like. I hope people who don’t normally watch Midwestern regional movies take a chance on the film when it makes it way to a festival or streaming platform. Jason Coffman has offered a solid first feature. I look forward to what he can do in the future.
You can learn more about Jason Coffman and his movie by checking out some of the following links. Follow him on Medium or Letterboxd to hear his ideas about movies, watch some of his videos at Vimeo, like the film page on Facebook, or purchase a copy of his film review book at Amazon. If you are thinking about making a movie yourself, you can read his rules on the making on Housesitters here.