February 27, 2018 Are We Not Cats (Movie Review)
Modern science has identified and catalogued over 290 psychological disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Some are brought on by trauma, some are chemical imbalances. Some are acquired from stress, some are congenital. Psychological imbalances are maligned and vilified in common society as a hallmark of weak genes; the sufferers are gently castigated by and politely ostracized from society into “facilities” and “homes.” People will cross the street to avoid those with physical and behavioral manifestations of these disorders, but only the cinema ever talks about the other side of it. The unifying power of a shared aberrant mental state has been documented by many films such as 1996’s Natural Born Killers, 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and now Writer/Director Xander Robin shows audiences a beautifully terrifying variation in Are We Not Cats.
A film which made its way through the international festival circuit, on Friday, February 23, 2018, it made its USA theatrical premiere thanks to Cleopatra Entertainment. A limited engagement, opening in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, Are We Not Cats also hits VOD platforms through The Orchard on Tuesday, February 27, 2018, followed by a DVD release via MVD on March 13th, also through Cleopatra Entertainment.
Robin’s feature film directorial debut is the drowsy story of Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson: We Are Still Here 2015, Nobody’s Watching 2017), a scruffy and passionless young man who, after losing virtually everything and everyone in his life in a matter of a few hours, finds himself rudderless. Seemingly unaffected by any of his misfortune, he lackadaisically stumbles upon a driving job which slingshots him into the icy pine barrens of upstate New York.
He goes where destiny leads, flying ever by the seat of his crusty cargo pants. Eli is traded like a relay baton from person to person until he is placed into the hands of Anya (Chelsea Lopez: Blue Bloods series, Blood Heist 2017), a fetching-yet-jaded free spirit who he feels kindred to. Their kinship is based entirely upon their shared habit of eating hair.
“Trichophagia” is a relatively rare, but DSM-5-recognized mental disorder wherein the sufferer pulls out their—and sometimes others’— hair and consumes it. The eating of hair can cause stomach pain, indigestion and sometimes, in the most extreme cases, death. Both Eli and Anya have this bizarre disorder and the commonality acts like Minoxidil to their growing affection for each other. Anya, however, suffers from it in a more profound way which culminates in a repulsive, yet saccharine ending that, at once, tugs the heartstrings and churns the stomach.
The story is odd, sickening, charming and sweet, but the real standout of the film is the music. Sultry slow-burn Soul music pervades the entire film from deep-cut genre artists like Yvonne Fair and Timmy Thomas. The tone of the film is set by these syrupy tunes and, as such, the characters seem to wade through it, unurgently, like molasses. The opening credit sequence in particular puts the audience in a slow-motion mentality. It is a quasi-psychedelic sequence of what looks like microscopic views of hair trapped in a fluctuating matrix, backed by a pulsing Trip-Hop track with samples of Soul music throughout. It is reminiscent of a James Bond introduction if James Bond were a smuggler of hard drugs.
Not only does the title of the film speak to the subject matter, but the apathy the main characters display toward nearly everything is completely feline in nature as well. Cats will knock your computer off the desk. They will barf on your new rug for being new. They will stare you in the eyes and claw your sofa to tatters. You won’t get an apology because the cat has moved on. Our protagonists act similarly, which is a quiet testament to its writing and direction.
Like the mangy alley-cat she is, Anya swipes a paw at a girl in a night club and gets a gaping head wound for it. Later, we see that her entire house is the human answer to a carpeted cat tree. Not to be outdone in cat-like characteristics, Eli drinks toxic chemicals, pukes blood, and then wanders into an impromptu job interview as if nothing had happened. He steals a small organ piano from a backwoods rock club to give to Anya, which she passively appreciates—here, the piano is equivalent to a dead mouse. Through it all, the only measurable efforts they make toward anything are the same sort of arbitrary behaviors that stray cats engage in. Lest we forget the hair eating…
Are We Not Cats combines the revolting “body horror” of David Cronenberg, the uneasy visual panache of Adrian Lyne, and the dizzying, apathetic infatuations of Gregg Araki in a kaleidoscope that will leave you pleasantly and nauseously wondering what the hell you just watched and why the hell Stephen Wright did not narrate it. For its strong Soul soundtrack, incredibly offbeat story, and subtly ingenious direction, CrypticRock awards Are We Not Cats 3.5 out of 5 stars.