Like most viral internet phobias heralded as evidence of zeitgeist, Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Man” is more of a cultural test than anything else.
Short stories posted on New Yorkers throughout the winter of 2017, was met with an almost dizzying level of fanfare and debate. One side: applause for Roupenian’s candid depiction of 21st-century dating, reflecting the confessional mood of a New York Magazine category “Sex Diary”. On the other hand: eye rolls aimed at the hype machine, criticism directed at the writer’s style, complaints from offended parties.
Tied to ignite discussion.
The story, a provocative tale of a half-baked romance between a college sophomore and a man more than ten years her senior, was drowned out in the noise of the song. speech. The conversation – about the value of the story, about why it provoked such a strong reaction, about what it says about communication – spirals, and the plot is lost. I suspect a similar fate will befall Susanna Fogel’s high-string adaptation, which premiered at Sundance this year and is sure to find a devoted, engaged audience.
Catman — directed by Fogel (co-writer on Smart book) and written by Michelle Ashford (master of sex) — know its reputation and take advantage of this self-awareness. Fogel and Ashford evoke the underlying horror in the story. Dating nightmares, fears of intimacy, and the anxiety of trusting potential suitors turn into strange sounds, hazy silhouettes, and visions of inevitable situations from. It’s a liberal approach that the film is almost nervously destructive. Like helicopter parents with access to Find My Friends, Catman cannot continue to register.
This distrust in the viewer is not obvious at first. Catman unfolds by embracing its source material and flaunting its genre aspirations. Margot (Emilia Jones) meets Robert (Nicholas Braun) at the town’s movie theater, where she tends to stand at the franchise counter. Their initial interaction echoes the awkward coldness of the short story: Margot mocks Robert for buying Red Vines and he jokes that she does a terrible job.
The movie stands out when Margot stumbles across a stray dog in front of her dorm building. She tries to sneak the dog into her room. But the floor is overseen by a condescending resident advisor who, hearing Margot trudge through the lobby, reminds our protagonist that animals are not allowed in. That night, Margot dreams of the dog howling outside the window and then torturing her RA.. This scene sets the mood, establishing the film’s intention to play with the line between real and unreal. Using techniques from recent social horror films – like Get out and Prospective Girl — Catman turning the horror of social problems into fear in the atmosphere.
At work the next night, Margot and Robert exchange phone numbers and begin their love affair. They text every day; Some messages are scarier than others. Margot’s friend Tamara (the always bubbly Geraldine Viswanathan), an outspoken feminist who moderates internet forums, encourages her to set boundaries early and often. Margot didn’t listen. The more she talks to Robert, the more divisive her view of him becomes: The man is both a charmer and a potential killer.
Scenes like the one where Robert leaves food for Margot, who is working late in the school lab, confirm this meaning. Their relationship is young – mostly limited to texting – making every interaction the potential for a fatal mistake. Small actions like the way Robert hands her snacks or grabs her arm will trigger Margot’s anxiety as she imagines him lunging at or attacking her. DP Manuel Billeter, driven by composer Heather McIntosh, creates a visual language that easily moves between tenderness and horror. Jones (CODA) and Braun (heir) reinforces the credibility of these moments; Their performance causes an appropriate level of embarrassment for the used person.
Hovering around these intense interactions that underscore the failures and anxieties of cishet dating are the sign-up steps — the alternating steps that want to make sure we’re absorbing what Fogel, Ashford, and Roupenian are doing. fabricate. Ant monologues given by Margot’s anthropology professor (Isabella Rossellini) or fantasy therapy sessions with an unnamed analyst (Fred Melamed) loudly signal The stock and packaging of the theme is too neat. At best, these are fun cameos to enjoy; At worst, they’re proof that the filmmakers don’t fully trust the viewer.
Roupenian’s story is most interesting when it exercises restraint and is comfortable with ambiguity. The violence of socialized gender roles feeds gray zones and rejection. After Margot ends the discord in the story, Robert’s initial sadness transforms into a nasty rage. He texted her back, each more aggressive than the first, until the story ended with him calling Margot a whore.
Catman effectively reproduces that scene and the scenes leading up to it, but it doesn’t end there. The hair-raising third act adds an unusual coda — one that I, after just one viewing, am still working on. The relief, however, lies in the filmmakers’ approach to these tense scenes: Fogel and Ashford loosen their grip, ultimately trusting us to sit in our discomfort, withdrawing. draw our own conclusions and sharpen our tools for speech.