Opening 16 Nov 2023
Margot (Emilia Jones) is a sophomore at an American university. She spends her evenings in the lab alone or working part-time at the local movie theater. Her friend and roommate Taylor (Geraldine Viswanathan), is the creator and moderator of an online feminist message board and is a bit of a shut-in, throwing comedic examples of just how little they should trust the world around them. One evening, while working at the movie theater, Margot comes to know Robert (Nichola Braun), a slightly older male customer, and after a few awkward encounters, they start to see each other. While they have a rich relationship via text message, in the real world, things are less-than-perfect and Margot often finds herself nervously imagining Robert harming her. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for their unbalanced relationship to come to a head.
Opening with an oft-used quote attributed to Margret Atwood, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”, Cat Person sets the theme of the whole film: gender-based fear. With a script written by Michelle Ashford, based on a 2017 short story for the New Yorker written by Kirsten Roupenian, and directed by Susanna Fogel, Cat Person had a chance of being a uniquely feminist thriller, but instead ends up being a bit too weighed down by its own attempts to take on the complexity of the topic. Margot and Taylor are both afraid of men, even prior to Robert entering the picture. Taylor is more vocal, with her understanding coming mostly from the internet, but Margot, despite her denials, is constantly imagining situations where she is the victim of male-perpetrated violence. It is clearly an ever-present thought as she embarks on her relationship with Robert, and it influences her interactions with him. Their fears start to seem warranted when Margot ends the relationship and then sees him a couple of times around town and he sends a cruel text. Margot falls into a spiral of fear and paranoia which leads to the violent climax where Robert’s perspective is given and the opening quote becomes even more poignant.
It is at the climax that the film takes a sharp turn which may leave those who are well aware of the reality and the risk inherent in intimate interactions between men and women with a bit of a bad taste. While the filmmakers were obviously trying to make a more nuanced film, the result feels more like an undermining of women on a topic where they still struggle to be believed in the real world. Cat Person at first seems like a very literal take on that Margret Atwood quote, with Margot being terrified of being murdered and Robert afraid of how a woman’s testimony might lead to him being judged by society and the law. However, by the end, it actually becomes a film about a woman whose fear is so extreme that she literally manifests the things she fears. This is not a great take in the real world where the vast majority of violence against women is very real and rarely believed or supported by society or the law. Cat Person ends up being a perfect example for every Men’s Rights supporter who wants another way to show how hysterical women are the real threat against men. The final act manages to not only undermine the message of the difficulties of modern dating as a woman, but also creates an uncomfortably muddled conclusion that may lead to you wanting to throw popcorn at the screen in frustration. (Rose Finlay)