REVIEW: Future of indie films on display in ‘S#!%house’



Cooper Raiff directed, wrote and stars in the film “Shithouse” as a college freshmen who goes to a party with an older girl.

There is always something distinctly exciting about going in to view a fresh filmmaker’s very critically acclaimed directorial debut. There’s always the lingering possibility that whoever this new filmmaker may be, they could possibly go on to be a new household name in the arthouse world or even in the mainstream zeitgeist.

Never before have I been more confident that someone was going to go on to be something huge than I am with Cooper Raiff’s tough love portrait of freshmen year in college “Shithouse” (or “S#!%house” as the poster says).

“Shithouse,” with its attention-grabbing yet misleadingly vulgar and provocative title, first came on to the scene with this year’s South By Southwest Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize and was quickly snagged up for distribution by IFC Films. 

Not only did the 22-year-old Raiff write, direct, produce and co-edit the film but he also stars in it as Alex, an awkward and anxious college freshman. Alex moves far away from his home in Austin to go attend school in Los Angeles, where he fails to really find his footing and his only friend is his plush stuffed wolf (who gets hilarious asides in the form of subtitles).

One fateful weekend though, Alex decides to step far out of his comfort zone and go to party with his loud-mouth roommate at the titular “Shithouse.” There, Alex meets Maggie, his sophomore RA (played marvelously by up-and-coming Indie Queen Dylan Gelula). The two, who couldn’t possibly be on more different pages when it comes to desires and emotional vulnerability, decide to spend the whole night together creating a sort of adventure with deep conversation, a spontaneous drunk baseball and the burying of a beloved dead pet.

It all rings very true as a millenial-riff on Linklater’s “Before Sunrise.” With conversations aplenty about Alex and Maggie’s respective pasts and views on college, relationships, families and fears. Raiff and Gelula have immaculate chemistry as well. Not only do they realistically embody their characters in the setting but they bounce off each other so naturally and always with a tinge of thorniness that every scene feels lived in with a palpable sense of history.

It’s in the final stretch of “Shithouse” where Raiff creates his own voice outside of the Linklater mold by truly reckoning with the crippling fear of leaving behind what is familiar in life for the sole potential of something better and more fulfilling. It’s a concept that most if not all college students reckon with in their lives and I genuinely haven’t seen someone handle with the ease, honesty and tenderness that Raiff has with this film.

If the future of American independent cinema is in the hands of filmmakers like Raiff who fill their film to the brim with fearlessness and empathy, we’re all in very good hands. It’s just rough around the edges enough to feel painfully human with a script that is still airtight enough to make the film fly by. As a fellow 22-year-old who is wild about film, it almost seems comically easy for me to resent the fact that Raiff made something this good, but instead, I choose to be grateful that he was able to do it and now we all get to enjoy it.

“Shithouse” is now playing in Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre and will roll out onto all On Demand platforms.