Year: 2017
Director(s): Marianna Palka
Writer(s): Marianna Palka
Region of Origin: US

Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 93 mins

Synopsis: A woman snaps and assumes the psyche of a vicious dog as her checked-out, philandering husband attempts to keep the family together. (Source)

As of now, Bitch is the most striking feminist horror film ever made. Written, directed and starring Marianna Palka, this singular vision of a family thrown into chaos without its matriarch is dark fun, but also unabashedly blunt and uncompromising. As if harnessing years of debasement into a focused act of retribution, Bitch is a sobering parable about what would happen if all the women who have been barked at decided to literally bark back. Palka rips to shreds the mentality that women are nothing but mindless pawns, turning deliberate tonal dissonance into something that pulses with rapturous purpose. Never going where we’d expect, and with an emotional core that’s as raw as they come, Palka’s film is a riotous, original achievement that’s pretty irresistible.

Jill (Marianna Palka) can’t catch a break. She flubbed her suicide, her cheating husband Bill (Jason Ritter) is a scumbag, and the kids are more than a handful. Left to her own devices, Jill’s suffocating and on the verge of a breakdown. Then it happens. Unable to cope with a family that takes her and her efforts for granted, Jill’s crumbling mental state brings about a dog-like fugue state. She poops and pees all over the floors, strips her clothes off, drops on all fours and retreats into the basement, barking at anyone who comes her way. Desperate without her, Jill’s kids and especially Bill struggle to keep their lives together without her. As the family attempts to figure out what is going on, Bill learns the hard way that everything he thought he had is nothing without Jill holding it all together.

What makes Palka’s effort so remarkable, is how much she’s able to say so much with such a simple, literal premise. Transforming Jill into a feral female dog turns out to be a sobering metaphor that really sticks, and not just in the primal way that Jill devolves, but through the implications of such an act. After Jill’s transformation, the film becomes not about her, but surprisingly Bill, who gets to step into her life, finally seeing things from another perspective. Relegated to the basement, Jill’s dog-like state speaks volumes – her absence allows Palka to systematically deconstruct societal gender expectations and burdens which women are forced to deal with, not on their own terms, but in the ways that a patriarchal society has set forth. No matter how you slice it, the film’s story is razor sharp, presented with an unabashedly weird and heightened sense of reality that’s extremely funny, but also sad and infuriating. It all dovetails into a final act that twists things even further, dialing down the humor to find a cathartic conclusion that’s heartfelt while still feeling earned and poignant.

Helping to bridge Palka’s shifting tones, is a cast that thrives through eccentric, yet believable characters. Palka’s own Jill is incredible, at first setting the tone as a despondent mother before turning into an instinctual animal. Palka shows a lot of range despite her limited screen time, but delivers a physical performance that speaks without words. The film’s third act requires her to shift things in a different direction, turning in a character that’s wholly unique in every way. By design, however, the film’s unwitting centerpiece is Jason Ritter’s Bill. As the philandering absentee father and workaholic, Ritter goes through a monumental transformation of his own. Initially someone we can’t hate enough, he delivers a complex dissection of the film’s feminism, illuminating gender perceptions with a total dirtbag, yet one that becomes relatable and ultimately redemptive. Jaimie King rounds things out as Beth, Jill’s sister. King comes in and offers an outside perspective, bursting Jill and Bill’s insular situation by giving it context. King is a nice counterpoint, and the film benefits from her presence.

If there’s one thing I want to leave you with, it’s that Bitch is a great mix of sharp humor and potent social ideas. The film is wholly entertaining on its own, delivering pitch black laughs, yet its riotous thrills aren’t empty headed. Palka’s effort is a perfect example of pop entertainment with purpose and meaning, something that feels like it should be the norm but sadly isn’t. Here’s to hoping we get more like this from Palka, who’s delivered a true gem that’s bursting with originality and bite.

SG