Cats (2019): A First Impression Review

If I told you I thought Cats was the scariest movie I’d seen this year, you would think I was making a joke – either at the expense of Cats, a box office bomb that internet movie critics have been gleefully ripping to shreds, or at the horror films that came out this year, which would be rather unkind seeing as we got some real gems.  The LighthouseDr. Sleep, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, It: Chapter 2, and Black Christmas were all excellent films (which I just listed in order of scariness for your convenience), so the horror genre didn’t exactly suffer from lack of good entries this year.  It was a good year for horror!

So maybe you’ll take me more seriously if I say, with complete sincerity, that Cats was the scariest movie I’ve seen this entire decade.  And it was, my friend.  It absolutely was.

Horror movies get compared to nightmares often.  Likewise, incompetent movies are often compared to fever dreams.  Cats made me realize we make those comparisons too lightly.  A nightmare is often completely disjointed from reality, from cause and effect, because it’s an assembly of feelings and images conjured by an unconscious mind.  The pervading sense of dread in a nightmare does not need to follow logic, and thus often doesn’t.  Nightmares function in such a way that they don’t need to make sense for you to feel terror – a nightmare can say “This door is terrifying,” present no reason why the door is terrifying, but still make you feel terror at the sight of it.  Logic and reason aren’t a fact.  You don’t need a “why” to understand a nightmare.  Indeed, the lack of explanation is part of what makes them so haunting.

This is the way of Cats.

I have seen the stage version of Cats.  Not the London or Broadway runs, of course, but a well done, decently budgeted community theater version.  I’ve seen recordings of one of the bigger budget productions before.  The critique I’m making here isn’t of the stage show, which is strange, but in a mostly fun and harmless way.  Cats works as a theater production because plays aren’t bound by the same strict structural rules as feature length films – a play can be a meandering, plotless series of character introductions, which is what Cats the play is.  The 2019 film adaptation was hampered by this fact, though, and one could argue that the faults of the film lie in the fact that the source material is ill suited for a film.  It is, yes, but that’s not the sum of the movie’s faults.  There are things the play got right that the film gets woefully wrong, and it results in things that were harmless and fun becoming a nightmare to witness.  Cats (2019) is the result of source material that was a bad choice to adapt being adapted incompetently, and the result is horror.

The biggest difference between the play Cats and the film Cats is artifice.  The costuming in the play is never realistic – these are people dressed to resemble cats.  They have fake ears and they wear makeup that makes them look vaguely feline, but you’re never convinced they’re really cats.  They have patches of fur provided by wigs, fur coats, leg warmers, collars, etc., but are mostly clad in jumpsuits that have been painted to resemble fur.  It’s symbolic, the way Kermit the frog represents a frog while not actually looking much like one (frogs aren’t bipeds, frogs aren’t made of felt, frog’s don’t have frills around their necks, etc.).  The play even works with that symbolism – in one number, an older cat named Jenny Anydots is first presented wearing a shaggy fur coat, but when the tempo changes to a frenetic pace, she sheds the coat to reveal she’s wearing a flapper-style dress beneath it.  Cat’s don’t wear coats and dresses (unless humans force them to) – it’s artifice.

The film Cats, however, goes for realism.  There are no leg warmers, no wigs.  Instead there are humans crammed into cat skins using a CGI effect that is as ghoulish to witness as my description has made it out to be.  Because the CGI was literally painted on the actors instead of using mo-cap, they don’t even fit inside those skins well – you can see the human heads and hands squirming in different positions out of sync with the skin, and it’s hellish to witness.  Jenny Anydots still strips in this version, but instead of shedding a coat, she rips her own skin off, which is red on the inside just for added horror, to reveal a second set of skin in a skimpy dress beneath.

Why did anyone not see how that was a problem?  How did they not realize how this choice turned something playful and fun into a nightmare?  How did they not know that removing a coat is different than ripping off your skin?

What is artifice in the play is forced to become reality in the movie, and as a result the reality of the movie is a nightmare.  It is hellish.  But then the movie goes out of its way to add terrors where none were there – in the play, Jenny Anydots is mentioned as training mice and roaches to clean and behave nicely.  In the movie, we see the mice and roaches, all of which have human faces poorly composited onto their CGI bodies, and then Jenny Anydots eats them.  She doesn’t do that in the play – it’s not even mentioned in the lyrics.  The mice have children’s faces.  Human children’s faces.  And she eats them.  She fucking eats them.

It’s a relentless nightmare.  It’s horrifying.  I’m still struggling to process what I witnessed.  It triggered my flight response and I am not joking.  At one point I took my coat and wrapped it around my eyes because I needed to escape.

There are a few breaks in the movie where it’s not totally frightening – after the Bustopher Jones number (which was almost as wretched as the Jenny Anydots scene), the movie calms down for a bit and by that point you’ve seen enough of the freakish cat monstrosities that you’re not quite as unsettled as you are in, say, the opening scene where it feels like they’re about to tear a newcomer cat to shreds.  It’s a shame that the breather in question was “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer,” a song that should fuckin’ slap but in this case was performed with far less energy than it needed, but I needed to catch my breath and compose myself.  There are some moments where the horror is so strange and ridiculous that it’s simultaneously funny and scary – Idris Elba’s villain character, Macavity, is sort of the personification of this, and you welcome his presence because it always heralds something so bizarre and nonsensical that your mind briefly slips into a pleasant shock at the sight of it.  There are even some moments of genuine pathos scattered here and there – you have to give it to the actors, they were trying their fucking hardest here.

But through the whole film there’s a pervading sense of dread and tension, which is made all the more palpable because you’re not entirely sure why you’re full of dread and tension.  The cats themselves feel it – they act as if there are HUGE THINGS AT STAKE, but you’re never really told why that is.  They’re all competing for the chance to die and be reincarnated, and have to appeal to their cult leader Deutoronomy for the chance to, again, die (and be reincarnated).  Why… why do they all WANT to die?  Why am I rooting for one of them to die?  I mean, I can make my own reason, but in the context of this story, which wants me to like these cats, why am I supposed to want them to die?  Why is this competition so important?  The cats feel the stakes are SUPER high, but I don’t know what the stakes are, and the cats get terrified and pissed for no discernable reason.  It’s all so damn tense, and dreadful, and I can’t figure out the logic behind those feelings but I feel them all the same.

It’s a nightmare.  It’s a literal nightmare.

If you’re a fan of horror, I can’t recommend this enough.  You will never experience a terror like Cats anywhere else, except perhaps in your own dreams.

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Monster Spotlight: Assorted Pokemon (Galar Edition)

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The sweetest snake becomes the sweetest pokemon

The vast majority of the images in this article come from scans twitter user Mixeli took of a Japanese player’s guide.  You can see more of them in this thread: https://twitter.com/PokeliYT/status/1205572614204329989

The 8th generation Pokemon games, Pokemon Sword and Shield, had a pretty contentious debut, with a lot of people being pretty damn pissed that slightly less than half of the 900ish pokemon will be playable in the game.  It’s made being a pokemon fan kinda suck because it’s impossible to avoid the discourse of whether or not the franchise is Ruined Forever.

Anyway, I’m NOT going to talk about Pokemon’s supposed ruination today.  This is Monster Spotlight, not How I’d Ruin It.  Instead, I’m just going to talk about many of the monsters that debuted this generation, because it may very well be my favorite gen since Kanto itself!

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Monster Spotlight: Assorted Pokemon (Kalos Edition)

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The Kalos Region, introduced in Pokemon X an Y, is one of the “short” generations, introducing fewer pokemon than, say, Hoenn or Unova.  So why didn’t I put this with its fellow short regions, like Sinnoh, Johto, and Alola?  Because I love the pokemon introduced in this gen so much that I’m going to talk about nearly every one of them.  This generation also introduced my all time favorite pokemon forever and ever, so, slim though it may be, I’m gonna have a lot to gush about here.

Let’s dive in!

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Star Wars and World Building Through Characters, or: Why I’m One of Those Awful Geeks Who Loves the Bounty Hunters

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This is an embarrassing manchild article, so I found an embarrassing photo from my manchild toy collection to use as a header. You’re welcome.

Well gang, a new Star War is upon us, and by the accounts I’ve heard it sounds somewhat mediocre in the way that only a script assembled by a marketing team trying to appeal to as many demographics as possible could be.  More than that, though, the buzz around this movie is so lukewarm and tepid compared to what the buzz around Star Warses used to be – people feel obligated to see it, but not super excited.  It’s just another movie.

Thank Christ, it’s finally just another movie.

The cult of Star wars is so massive and passionate, both from consumers and our corporate overlords alike, that’s it’s kind of terrifying.  The sheer amount of marketing and product that was shoved down our throats in the anticipation of a new Star Wars movie in the past was overwhelming and nauseating.  These movies weren’t just movies, but EVENTS, practically on par with Holidays (I mean, in friggin’ Target they literally gave the seasonal aisle to Star Wars shit for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi).  There is a literal religion based on the stupid, garbled, mangled atrocity that George Lucas made out of various Asian philosophies, and while the real life Jedi Order seems to be one of those fake “piss off the Fundies” religions like the Flying Spaghetti Monster Pastafarians, the mere notion that these movies could have one day spawned an serious religion based on their poorly constructed mythos will never stop haunting my dreams.  Thank Christ they’re just movies now.

But let’s move away from the negative.  I’m writing this to honor Star Wars, not to bury it.  I want to talk about some things that Star Wars did really well, things that the current movies have kind of forgotten.  I’m also going to expose myself as one of those Cringey Star Wars geeks who likes the Bounty Hunters, so at the very least you can use this article as a reason to point and laugh at me a bunch.  Either way, let’s take a trip to the late seventies and mid eighties, and overanalyze a bunch of glorified background extras together!

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Monster Spotlight: Assorted Pokemon (Unova Edition)

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With Part Four of Monster Spotlight’s Pokemon deep dive, we travel to the Unova region, i.e. the first Pokemon land to be inspired by/based on a country that ISN’T Japan!  So grab your McDonalds and prepare to buy new pants as your waist expands, because we’re going to the Pokemon world’s equivalent of the USA.

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Monster Spotlight: Assorted Pokemon (Hoenn Edition)

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It’s time for the third part of Monster Spotlight’s ongoing exploration of the Pokemon franchise’s critters, which is getting more weirdly emotional and personal with each installment.  This time we’re focusing on monsters who debuted in the Hoenn region, i.e. the Third Generation of Pokemon!

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Monster Spotlight: Assorted Pokemon (Johto/Sinnoh/Alola Edition)

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AS PER LAST TIME, ALL IMAGES ARE OFFICIAL POKEMON COMPANY ARTWORK TAKEN FROM GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH.

Not all pokemon generations are created equal.  Like, literally, there are a different number of new pokemon in every individual generation of the games, and some have significantly less than others (and none top the 151 introduced in the first generation).  As the number of total pokemon creeps ever closer to 1000 (which is an ludicrous number of unique playable characters, even for a mons game), the pokemon company has actively tried to slow down a bit in how many new pokemon they make in a game, because the higher that number is, the more impossible basic aspects of an RPG (balance between different playable characters, making the different playable characters feel unique by giving them unique movesets and animations, creating new mechanics to keep the franchise from feeling too samey, etc.) become.

So if, say, you’re doing a series where you talk about pokemon you like and organize it by generation, some generations give you less to work with than others – especially if those generations, in addition to having significantly less pokemon than others, also just have proportionally less pokemon that appeal specifically to you.

You read the title, you get where I’m going with this.  I’m lumping the Johto, Sinnoh, and Alola pokemon games’ unique mons together in one article for convenience, because I don’t have nearly as much to say about them as I do the other generations, and yet desire a rough symmetry from these articles.  So let’s dive into what you could un-charitably call my least favorite pokemon generations – which would be a bit extreme to say, honestly, since these generations still managed to introduce a lot of pokemon I like, including two of my absolute favorites.

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