Writer/director Michael Reich’s horror-tinged quasi-romance (or, depending on one’s leanings, romance-tinged quasi-horror) film She’s Allergic to Cats is equally hypnotic, captivating, and frustrating. At times it feels like a calculated, clever slice of eccentric personal cinema, and at other times it feels like a student video project about to go off the rails. It has a ruffian charm that, after all is said and done, manages to slightly outweigh its forays into self indulgence.

Mike Pinkney stars as Mike Pinkney, a socially awkward young man who moved to Hollywood to make films but instead grooms pets of the stars for a meager living while making video projects that he admits nobody wants to see. His dream labor of love is a remake of Carrie with cats for actors. His rented home is being overrun by rats. Little is going right for Mike, and then he meets Cora (Sonja Kinski) at his job. The two go one a first date that goes from awkward to bizarre.

The character Mike Pinkney is both easily identifiable and varying degrees of relatable as a nebbish everynerd, a dreamer with big plans but no resources. The actor Mike Pinkney plays his role with an underlying oddball charm beneath the character’s graceless exterior. Sonja Kinski invests Cora with an outgoing, take-charge manner, bringing delightful energy to the proceedings.

Reich’s direction is deliberately all over the place; at times, the simple boy-meets-girl story is on a linear route toward letting nature take its course when Reich interrupts it with either a deliberately corny moment or an unexpected, heavily-edited video assault. Some of the experimental video sequences are challenging, while others are merely taxing, feeling like something that has been sitting on a video shelf in its VHS clamshell waiting for Reich to use somehow, someway.

She’s Allergic to Cats isn’t an outright horror effort, but Reich does manage to make viewers feel a sense of unease and dread for the film’s running time. Sudden unexpected visual jolts intended to cause uneasiness are peppered throughout, but these are often meant to serve as discomforting comedy bits rather than to frighten. The attempts at comedy sometimes fall flat; viewers can feel when some gags are meant to be funny but come up short, and when Reich goes for broader laughs, it’s hard to say whether he is trying to genuinely earn them or to be satisfied with efforts at irony.

She’s Allergic to Cats sometimes feels like a wild fever dream mutually shared by David Lynch and John Waters, with all the rewards and pitfalls that such a goal would entail. Viewers will feel something watching the film, which is more than can be said about some motion pictures. This movie is bound to be divisive. I was on the fine line between being mesmerized and wondering how much more I could handle; when I finished the movie, I was glad to have witnessed a personal work of quirky art that is bound to be one of the most unusual viewing experiences of the year.

She’s Allergic to Cats was screened at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF, 22 March to 26 March 2017).