We all knew it was gonna be horrifying.
We saw the trailer. Most of you guys downvoted it, most likely. That’s fair. You all expected a broken, messy, disaster of a film. And well, that’s fair too, cause that’s what we got. We also got my favorite filmgoing experience of 2019.
I’m going to start this with a defense of me talking about Cats at all. After all, it’s outside my usual wheelbox. This thing has monsters, trust me. Every character is a monster. This movie will confound and disturb at every angle. Tone-wise, this is totally up my alley. Now, begin the review! I’ll figure out how you review a movie as I go.
I suppose I shall start with the plot, since it’s easy; no plot. There’s the idea of a plot, but there’s no proper rising and falling action. The majority of the movie is spent introducing the cats competing in the Jelicle Ball, which basically is a massive competition, the winner of which is reborn in some sense, although the exact meaning of this is not very thoroughly explained. A lot of this movie operates very much on fever dream logic.
Before I get into the nightmare stuff, let’s just throw in some acting commentary. Only a couple performances stood out. On the good end, Ian Mckellan is unbelievable. I have no idea how he did it, but he was the only person who made me take their character seriously in the whole movie. He’s brilliant. And I don’t know who was playing the fat cat that Macavity called “Puss in Spats”, but the result was basically just “Jim Sterling cat”, and it is amazing.
Idris Elba is also a good actor, but somehow he turned in what is almost certainly a career worst performance. His Macavity is hilariously bad, and you will laugh at him in every scene you aren’t cringing in. The character’s dialogue doesn’t help, as pretty much any line that’s not sung is terrible, and he gets the majority of those. Sometimes he just yells “Macavity” for no reason and I laughed every time.
And Jason Derulo just sucks.
The fever dream stuff is what we’re really here for, so let’s dig into that. Nightmare element the first! The movie looks straight up unfinished in some parts. There is a sequence with a marching army of cockroaches (which are also humans with cg animal bodies) who aren’t so bad on their own but are truly unsettling with their strange disconnect from the universe. They seem to float just out of our reality, one step removed from things that should be. Also one of the cats keeps eating them. It’s pretty gruesome.
Nightmare element the second! Good old regular uncanny valley. A lot of things in this movie look just wrong. I should explain something quick, I’m really resistant to the uncanny valley. Very few things that creep other people out get to me. It takes something really bad to get me. So most of the time, the cats don’t get me. They freaked a lot of people out, but they only occasionally got me to twitch (I was more freaked out by their human hands than their human faces, because at least the faces had fur like they were supposed to). No, what got me were the things around the cats.
The movie’s sense of scale felt warped, for one. The cats felt like they were closer to the size of rats, and the mice were as big to them as they are to a full-sized human, which makes the mice smaller than most insects. It’s just mildly disconcerting, but it’s something that will nag at your mind for the entire movie.
More importantly, the mice themselves are horrifying. Their faces and bodies look much worse than the cats. The cats don’t bother me so much because they’re human faces on mostly humanoid bodies. That’s expected, you can say they’re people in outfits. The mice have child faces slapped onto weird, pudgy teletubby bodies. And let’s make no bones about it, the teletubbies are grim creatures, horrible cyborgs who should have never been. But at least their faces have the decency to not be human.
Last and most importantly, my absolute favorite mind-warping detail of this movie is just how mind-clawingly obvious it gets that these creatures are almost, to a cat, butt naked and flailing their naked bodies about aggressively at all times. You might be saying “Web, of course they’re naked, they’re cats, they don’t wear clothes” and yeah, they don’t, but normally you don’t look at an animal that doesn’t normally wear clothing and say “oh yeah, that thing’s naked”. No, that’s a term for a human’s unclothed state, and they’re just human enough it gets might uncomfortable.
First, it hits you right away. The first shots of the movie have cats crawling around and it is immediately striking that they’re nude humans with some fur on them. It takes a while to grow used to this, and for a while, you are whole. This is the way of things. It’s not really nudity if this is their natural state, is it?
And then you see cats in clothes. And that sets you back some. Because if some cats wear clothes, then the ones that don’t really are set apart. But that didn’t get me as badly as it did others. Nah, I can handle that. I can handle clothing being decoration to them but not necessary. I grew up with those rules being normal for cartoon characters. No, the weird stuff is when the clothing accentuates the nudity.
There’s a group of female cats who only wear extremely shiny, eye-catching collars, and it just really accentuates that the collars are all that’s on. Similarly, two male cats only wear sneakers and again, it emphasizes that they are just wearing shoes. The freaks. At least just wearing collars is straight up a sex thing, why would you only have shoes? This movie invented new fetishes and I was their unwilling test subject.
Taylor Swift cat and Macavity were the worst though. Most of the female cats were relatively flat, besides Rebel Wilson cat. Taylor Swift cat not only had a rather prominent chest, but she was introduced lying on her back and, well, that chest reacted realistically to that position as an unclothed woman’s chest would. This movie is rated PG, but for a second it felt like borderline furry porn.
Macavity was even worse though. He wears a heavy coat for the majority of the movie, so when he suddenly removes it, it’s shocking. Worse, his fur is extremely short, more like skin than any other cat in the feature. Every motion of his muscles underneath is visible. Every one. You will see them all. Look into his rippling cat-pec muscles, children who were inexplicably let into this movie. Absorb that feeling. This will teach you the value of modesty.
Anyway, 100% greatest cult film created this decade. Go see it. You’ll probably have the whole theater to yourself, so bring your friends. You can make it a party. You will be bobbing your head to the awesome music one moment, gasping in terror at visual assault the next, and right back to sheer joy as something inexplicable happens minutes later. I promise I’ll never tell you to go watch porn again.
Unless it’s really, really weird porn? That qualifier doesn’t help, does it?