15She was a college student and part time concession stand worker at a cinema, he was an older Harrison Ford film fanatic, can I make it anymore obvious? If an online romance turned potential killer stalker scenario is obvious then ‘Cat Person’ succeeds as it follows the shifting power dynamics and clumsy intimacy of a doomed new relationship.
With a screenplay adapted by Michelle Ashford and direction by Susanna Fogel, ‘Cat Person’ follows Margot and Robert as their relationship progresses from customer and employee, to a texting fling, to eventually a cringeworthy one night stand. However, after weeks of texting and one sole real date, Robert proves to be much more difficult to shake off than Margot anticipated. Is it paranoia lurking in the shadows or has Robert still got his claws latched into Margot?
The film opens with a quote from Margaret Atwood, ‘Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them’. Although entirely relevant, opening with this quote, along with other moments of expository dialogue, (“being a woman is so scary”) denies audiences the chance to draw this conclusion themself and instead acts as a spoon fed message. This then begs the question, does the action of the film serve a meaty message or without exposition are audiences left unfed? However despite its shallower moments ‘Cat Person’ still manages to bring to life some of the relatability that made the original story so popular.
A stand out scene sees Margot, played by Emilia Jones, and Robert, played by Nicholas Braun get sexually intimate; a choice Margot immediately regrets and later states is ‘the worst decision’ she’s ever made. Quite literally an out of body experience for Margot, the film depicts dissociation during sex through duplicating Margot and having the second version of herself talk her through the act and beg her to stop. The scene captures the grey area of consent, the difficulty in communicating when one has changed their mind and the fear that this change will bring about a violent response.
Where the film succeeds most is in its commentary surrounding the projections people conjure of others when they are still getting to know them. The sex scene shatters Margot’s preconceived projection of Robert as an experienced and charming man and forces her to realise just how little she actually knows him. This then leads to new projections and fears that this stranger could actually propose a threat. These fears only build when after Margot lets Robert down, he begins to appear randomly in her life and refuses to give up texting her.
Where the short story cuts off after a series of disturbing text messages that eventuates in Robert calling Margot a ‘whore’, the film stretches on and creates a new ending. This added narrative takes the implied fears and paranoia explored in the short story and makes them real; however, what this actually adds thematically is debatable. The realism of paranoia and the unknown is lost when the threat becomes more tangible but less believable.
Overall with some strong moments, ‘Cat Person’ touches on the complications of consent and the frightening aspects of dating as you allow yourself to be vulnerable with a stranger.
‘Cat Person’ opened in cinemas on Thursday, November 23, 2023.