Tormenting the Hen ★★★★

Tension abounds in writer/director Theodore Collatos’s latest feature, Tormenting the Hen, as nearly every discussion and/or interaction is laced with potential avenues providing offense and/or judgments, even the more inconspicuous and trivial subjects up for discussion harbor the possibility of illuminating surprising truths and viewpoints. With his script, Collatos has crafted a proverbial minefield for his characters to navigate, one that is laden with opportunities to weaponize any and all words and the hazards of crafting conclusions about others with incomplete information.

Remarkably, with all that being said Collatos is able to present this abundance of tension with episodic levity creating a delicate balance of both; a taut mystery/thriller combined with a lightweight sense of realism revolving around a couple mixing work and vacation in the Berkshires while never fully committing to either thus creating a prevailing sense of unpredictability. A thriller with no crime, no victims, and no perpetrator yet through paranoia and misreading, the actuality of all three coming into existence is always one action away. Nothing to everything in a matter of seconds, from peace to confrontation at the drop of a phrase or a mere gesture.

This obviously takes a psychological toll on the characters but, perhaps, none more so than Monica (Carolina Monnerat), one-half of the couple staying in the Berkshires while her other half, Claire (Dameka Hayes), directs her original play in the area. An awkward first impression with the groundskeeper of the property, Mutty (Matthew Shaw), where they stay has left her with an uneasy sense that this man is doing everything in his power to harass and intimidate her. Unfortunately, given Mutty’s lacking social skills much of his demeanor and actions have the tendency to be misconstrued based on his idiosyncrasies. And, once those misinterpretations are introduced they radiate outward and spread throughout the other characters in the film.

Capturing this general unease and interpersonal turmoil, Collatos (also serving as the film’s cinematographer) employs a somewhat steady brand of handheld that is routinely stifling in its focus and framing, repeatedly invading the personal spaces of his characters while also signaling their confinement to each other’s company. It works well in ratcheting up the tension, especially in one sequence wherein Mutty tells a heart-wrenching story to Monica and Claire as the camera slowly scans – 360 degrees – around the three from the perimeter drawing in and out of focus, tight against the facial expressions.

Although Collatos is usually known for his Realism approach, he does mix in some experimental stretches to represent the toll being inflicted upon Monica’s mental state, nightmares involving wandering hens and laughing faces convulsing paired with hazy lighting. That experimentation also bleeds into the film’s editing, providing by Collatos and George Manatos, with rapid cuts percolating the stress and anxieties laying underneath these interactions bringing them to unbearable boiling points before backing off. Although, even with all this in mind, the film is still able to possess a certain relaxed atmosphere despite the (mis)interpretations of supposed threats and aggressions.

The last piece of the puzzle that enables Collatos’s vision to come to fruition would be the performances of his cast. All of which provide stellar turns, nearly each one is given the opportunity to showcase a range of emotional states as they oscillate between victim and perpetrator. All except for Matthew Shaw’s portrayal of Mutty, a character that needs to be complex while outward emotions need to be nearly non-existent to which Shaw certainly displays the ability necessary.

Original Review

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