The Plot: College student Margot (Emilia Jones) studies ancient bones and archaeology under the watchful eye of Dr. Enid (Isabella Rossellini). She also works part-time at a concession stand in a retro cinema. Regular patron Robert (Nicholas Braun) catches her eye and they strike up a conversation. He’s a little bit older and his idea of romance comes from a key scene in The Empire Strikes Back. They start texting and have a lively conversation there, before moving to actual dates involving drinks and movies. However, that comes with a certain degree of awkwardness which then escalates into something more sinister…
The Verdict: There’s something inherently risky about the perils of modern dating. Putting yourself out there, potentially making yourself vulnerable to someone who is pretty much a stranger until you really get to know him/her in person. What if it all goes brilliantly right… or horribly wrong… or a bit of both? It’s something that chimes with the wildly-varying themes of Cat Person, which begins with a telling quote from author Margaret Atwood: ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them’. Make no mistake – Cat Person is not a date movie. It’s as far removed from a cheery Hugh Grant film that it could be. It’s more of an edgy anti-romcom with layers of thriller and horror rolled into it which underlines that meeting people in person is just as nervy as meeting them online too. It’s a roll of the dice and it’s not always a double six.
Cat Person is based on a short story that appeared in the New Yorker magazine, which has some basis in reality. Author Kristen Roupenian also admits that almost all the details are fictional. So, what we have here is a story that initially seems like a cute and sweet tentative romance between two different souls, but has a dark underbelly to it. Roupenian adapted the story along with Michelle Ashford and it skews very much towards a deeply cynical view of modern dating. It also skewers any expectations of where the story might actually go, leaving audiences potentially in the fog about character motivations as events start to spiral out of control. The characters are quite well drawn though. Margot is a girl-next-door-type who also has a morbid fascination with her studies and the historical mistreatment of women. Robert is gawky and awkward, but has a charming way of expressing himself through Harrison Ford films. As they hang out though, it becomes obvious that neither of them has seen the expectations/reality sequence from (500) Days Of Summer.
CODA’s breakout star Emilia Jones and Succession’s secret weapon Nicholas Braun deliver pointed performances, with some of their scenes improvised to heighten just how unpredictable this film is. It shifts gears several times, perhaps frustratingly so. After a strong set-up and tense word-play in the midsection which more than holds the attention, director Susanna Fogel then moves into more familiar thriller territory which doesn’t entirely ring true and paints both characters as paranoid obsessives who don’t know when to stop. Geraldine Viswanathan’s in-tune best friend Taylor provides the voice of reason, but her words fall on deaf ears. Out of focus in one shot is a poster for Fatal Attraction, a touchpoint for this film. Try as it may, Cat Person hasn’t quite got the class to pull itself off with the same level of well-executed conviction that Adrian Lyne managed in 1987. Instead, it stumbles towards a strangely muted conclusion about stranger danger.
Cat Person is something of a mixed bag then from which men and women will take different things. It does have something interesting to say about modern relationships, even if it’s somewhat blunt and not as smart as it thinks it is. The convincing lead performances are enough to make it an entertaining curiosity and an alternative option for Hallowe’en. Then again, look what curiosity did to the cat (person).