Cat Person sinks its claws deep into the horrors of dating
An archly-feminist Rashomon-inspired take on the “not all men” trope, CAT PERSON opens with arguably 2023’s most terrifying scene as, for a split second, we see Emelia Jones’ Margot standing blank-eyed beside an Icee machine and you think you’re watching another indescribably cringe-inducing Cineworld Unlimited promo. Thankfully, it’s a moment that’s quickly broken, but don’t relax just yet because this movie sure as shit ain’t done making you squirm.
When Robert (Nicholas Braun), a customer at the cinema where college student Margot works catches her eye, some clumsy flirting results in an exchange of numbers. A romance blossoms in text messages but things take a rapid downwards turn when the pair bring their digital relationship into the real world.
Nominally categorized as a psychological thriller, CAT PERSON is a terrifyingly sharp satire on the horrors of modern dating and the distanced, deceptive effect of technology. Although the film largely follows Margot’s perspective – a perspective often fuelled by her more militant feminist friend XY, played with spectacular sanctimony by Geraldine Viswanathan, this bubble is occasionally punctured with decidedly plausible alternative interpretations and the genius of Michelle Ashford’s screenplay (adapted from a viral New Yorker story by Kristen Roupenian) and Susana Fogoel’s direction is how fiendishly this ambiguity is maintained throughout the film. Even the use of the famous (yet apocryphal) Margaret Atwood quote at the very beginning: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Is an exercise in knowing manipulation; a device to frame the audience’s perception of what CAT PERSON wants to show us.
We are meant to feel Margot’s fear, and we’re meant to feel a sense of derision towards Robert’s awkward geekiness, his over-earnest idolatry of fantasy male role models and his social ineptitude. All are designed to evoke the very quintessence of fedora-tipping incel intimidation, yet time and again, the film presents us with near-plausible explanations for even the most alarming events, all without ever tipping over into outright sympathy for Robert, even through the somewhat bombastic third act which many may find a little disingenuous and tacked-on to please the multiplex masses.
The perils of dating in the modern age through a realistic lens that nevertheless embraces shades of SCREAM’s ironic self-awareness, CAT PERSON is a decidedly unsettling film, and one that’s sure to spark thousands of post-viewing conversations, maybe even arguments, but in amongst all the moral and emotional equivocality, there’s going to be one thing pretty much everyone is going to agree on: CAT PERSON has a lock on “worst screen kiss” for 2023 and a shot at “of all time”.
Far from the quirky, anti-RomCom it’s portrayed as in the trailer, its an uncomfortably resonant viewing experience where everyone in the audience – whether they’re willing to admit it or not – will find something that echoes an incident or experience from their own lives. In the end it’s probably those experiences which will shape your final interpretation of what’s gone on, even if the reassuring feeling of absolute certainty will likely forever elude you.