I've been at the Guardian awhile -- it'll be eight years next month, in fact. I started as a fresh-faced, eager intern, and since 1999 I've met many other fresh-faced, eager interns, intent on careers in media or academics or giraffe-tending (for real! If you're out there, intern-who-reviewed-movies-but-was-also-a-zookeeper, email me and let me know how you're doing.) But I've only known a few who were determined to segue from film writer to filmmaker -- and one of 'em was Dina Gachman, who just finished her graduate thesis film at USC.
The fifteen-minute Archer House -- which Gachman described to me as "a girlie dark comedy" -- follows Texas college freshman Sam Archer (the endearing Riley Rose Critchlow), an aspiring journalist who decides her first big story will be an expose on sororities. Though she's a brain with chipped nail polish who looks like she'd rather eat glass than wear a pink cardigan or make bubbly small talk, she sets her sights on Alpha Beta Delta, which counts her sister (the kind of girl who opens conversations by saying "Is that what you're wearing?"), her mother, and her grandmother among its legacy members.
At first, Sam is totally disdainful of all she encounters -- the words "It's time for skits!" send her scurrying from the room -- and the sorority girls are equally suspicious of her, calling her pitiful and declaring her in need of a "face job." There's a particularly horrifying scene where Sam and her fellow pledges have to strip down to their skivvies in front of a roomful of judgemental frat brothers.
But as she goes through rush, weird things start happening. Her older sis, who previously sneered at her every move, starts acting like a friend. Her parents are suddenly, weirdly supportive. Is it possible that the awkward outcast might actually come to enjoy running with the herd, probably for the first time in her life? And is that sinister or what?
Archer House's Sam (Riley Rose Critchlow, left) finds the sorority world oddly alluring.
Though Archer House's brief running time doesn't allow for a terribly intricate plot, it does a fine job of avoiding cliche -- if you're expecting some kind of Mean Girls rip-off ending, like a big scene o' comeuppance where Sam shows the superficial sorority biddies her true colors, you're in for a surprise. Being a young woman (and a Texan) herself, Gachman proves particularly adept at directing her cast, who're pretty pitch-perfect in their encapsulation of girl-on-girl mental cruelty -- masked by poisonously sweet smiles, of course. I'd love to see Sam's story expanded into a feature film. So many movies about young women longing (however secretly) to fit in try to teach obvious lessons -- losing their senses of humor along the way. Archer House bites back, all the way to the final shot.
For more info, check out the film's website at www.archerhousemovie.com.