Rural setting is a microcosm in Berkshires-made thriller, "Tormenting the Hen"

A new movie shot in the Berkshires by director Theodore Collatos reverberates with dynamics from outside the area. The film, "Tormenting the Hen," examines the world's current sensitivity to micro-aggressions and its potentially disturbing impact on a bucolic region.

The film, which is at Berkshire Museum's Little Cinema through Monday, follows a theater director named Claire (Dameka Hayes), who is doing a residency in a rural setting, accompanied by her partner Monica (Carolina Monnerat). A neighbor named Mutty (Matt Shaw) at first appears to be annoying, but some of his statements suggest that he might pose a threat to the women.

The film has already had a theatrical run in Chicago and New York and played several film festivals. It won the Duncan-Williams Scriptwriting Award at this year's Memphis Indie Film Festival.

In its review, Hollywood Reporter said, "Especially when viewed at this moment in time, 'Tormenting the Hen' plays as a critique of the unwitting assumptions men make when dealing with women in our world — the freedom to suggest, question and intrude in ways that would likely seem unusual if coming from a woman toward a man."

The film was shot mostly in Richmond, where Collatos spent summers as a kid, and also features the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge and the exterior of the Red Lion Inn. The shoot originally was meant to take place over eight days, but complications shortened it to six. To compensate, Collatos removed 20 pages from his 90-page script.

The idea for the film came from Collatos' own experience with a neighbor in New York City, who woke up everyone in the building at 4 a.m. by slamming their doors into a railing. This went on for years, with resentment growing among the other neighbors. Collatos charted his personal reaction to the person, which struck him especially in one regard — he didn't really know the person at all.

"I started thinking of how we as people everyday form judgments on people we don't even know," he said. "It's a universal human thing that happens. It's biological to a certain point, where you're in a room with someone and you just don't like that person, and there's no reason for it at all."

Collatos had wanted to do a movie that fits into the subgenre of suspense films in which a couple's relationship becomes disrupted by a third person who enters their lives.

Collatos got further conceptual inspiration from an earlier documentary he had done which featured two men of different backgrounds having a conversation in front of the camera.

"When I screened the film at film festivals, a lot of people would judge the actual people in the film rather than watch a certain character develop and change over the course of the film," said Collatos. "It bothered me because what I saw in the film was someone changing but what people saw in the film was like dismissing the character as a person and not seeing his evolution in front of the camera."

Collatos decided to take that scenario and place it in his new film, fictionalized as a series of theater rehearsals. In the movie, Claire is directing a play and these conversations emerge as the interaction between her and the two actors. Collatos wanted to juxtapose the theater setting with the action in the main story.

Collatos filled the cast with actors he has known and trusted, including his wife, Carolina Monnerat. Matthew Shaw, who plays Mutty, grew up in Pittsfield and has been in previous Collatos films.

"Politically we all knew what I was trying to say, so that made it easier to get into the weeds on certain topics," Collatos said. "It wasn't like people felt uncomfortable talking about things."

Collatos is mainly concerned with how people from different backgrounds interact and the ways that can go haywire.

"We live in a world now where we have to use our language specifically, or it's going to be misconstrued as something else," Collatos said. "A lot of the film is a comment on that, how we speak to each other and how we misrepresent ourselves. It's just become a mess of confusion."


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