Marianna Palka's exceedingly bizarre family drama defies expectations - and will also certainly divide opinion.
Every year, Sundance has that one entry that is very specifically set to fuck with its audience; a weird indie venture into something so bizarre, we can’t help but be intrigued. This year, with Marianna Palka’s Bitch, the institute made no exception.
If you wanted to get real simplistic with the plot, the film could easily be described as the story of a distressed housewife who, buckled under by the pressures of motherhood, becomes (in essence) a dog. Under this impression, you would be forgiven for thinking this might be funny – kind of weirdly brilliant, even, but Bitch is a lot more complicated than that, defying expectations in exceedingly perturbed ways.
Though a little convoluted, the film is at its heart, a family drama that seeks to deconstruct and shed light on traditional gender roles within the family unit. Jill (Palka) is a mother of four who is clearly becoming more and more unhinged as the daily routines of nurturing a family weigh down upon her. Meanwhile, her husband Bill (Jason Ritter) is oblivious to his wife’s gradual mental breakdown, absorbed by his work and the steamy affair he is having with his secretary.
But then, Jill mysteriously disappears, causing a fairly funny chain of chaotic events as Bill attempts to cover her motherly duties. Later, the kids find Mom prowling in the basement, having seemingly taken on the psyche of a vicious canine. Calling in Jill’s sister (Jaime King) for support, Bill finds himself in a situation that calls on him to reevaluate his life and become a better father and husband to his family – all while his wife sits skulking in her faecal-covered den. Bizarre doesn’t even cover it, but in its own weird way, it works.
The performances in the film certainly lend towards the film’s subversive poignancy. Palka is riveting in her role as Jill, evoking a fearsome sense of beastly rage as she prowls over the screen. The way in which she holds her body is particularly impressive, as she realistically captures the raw, rigid movements of a wild animal. Ritter is also good in his role as Bill, who evolves throughout the story, giving the actor several opportunities to play with the character. Meanwhile, the child actors that make up the rest of the family succeed in portraying very annoying, whiny children – making Jill’s transition to a canine state of mind seem just that little bit more understandable.
The film is very graphic, opening with a very disturbing scene of Jill trying to hang herself from the ceiling with her husband’s belt. Everything about this opening, from Jill’s desperate gasps for air amongst the dead silence, to the cold cinematography of the scene, makes for very uncomfortable viewing. And though it isn’t particularly pleasant, Palka must be commended for carrying that vibe of uneasiness throughout the film.
A strange and eerie watch, Bitch certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it remains weirdly fascinating all the same.
Bitch (2017), directed by Marianna Palka is distributed by MarVista Entertainment (Certificate 15)