Watching Cats on the big screen was a mistake. I wished CGI Idris Elba would show up beside me in the theatre wearing his Party City cat-eye contact lenses and magic me away from all of it. Despite this, I cannot stop telling people that they need to see Cats. I need to make sure I didn’t just hallucinate it.
If Cats had been conceived as a surreal, experimental horror film, it would’ve been a masterpiece. There is nothing in recent cinema history as disconcerting as Rebel Wilson’s fursona unzipping her body to reveal another identical body underneath, then shoving a bunch of curvy, sexualized, singing-and-dancing humanoid cockroaches into her mouth with loud crunches. This is just one snippet of the nightmare fuel that is Tom Hooper’s Cats.
There is little plot in Cats, as those behind the stage production only set out to make a spectacular experience; Tom Hooper’s adaptation is only faithful to one of those descriptors.
The film is presented in repetitive musical vignettes, most of which are a cat explaining who they are through song. This all takes place under an overarching story of how one lucky cat will soon be deemed most worthy to die, thus ascending to the Heaviside Layer (cat heaven, essentially) where they will be granted a new and better life, which I like to imagine is a life the same as the one you and I live right now, with the only improvement being that Tom Hooper’s Cats does not exist.
Regardless of what this new life is, it leads to the chosen cat being sent floating through the skies in a hot air balloon before fading into the clouds. I thought watching a humanoid cat die via CGI balloon was the most unintentionally hilarious thing I’d ever seen until I was punished for finding it funny by being directly addressed by a fluffy Judi Dench breaking the fourth wall to sing directly to “you” about why cats are cats and not dogs. Staring back into the little human eyes buried beneath her digital fur — trained directly on the camera and drilling through the audience’s eyes into the back of our skulls — almost triggered a fight-or-flight response in me. Horrifying.
The film opens on a nightmarish vision better left to a sleep paralysis hallucination. A bag, containing abandoned cat Victoria (Francesca Hayward), writhes around in the middle of the road while the other cats dance around it with quick, creepy-crawly movements characteristic of the horror genre, especially in considering their monstrous bodies.
Paired with the unnecessarily shaky, unfocused camerawork seen throughout the entire film, it sets the unintentional tone for this visceral abomination of a film. The occasional shaky camera was a bizarre choice for an over-the-top musical; it gives it a hazy, unsettled quality, as though the viewer is drowsy and waking up from a long sleep only to be confronted with Hooper’s horrifying vision. Paired with abrupt cuts and strange angles all throughout, there were many poor technical choices within this film.
None, however, are quite as bad as the animation. This movie has led me to believe that the invention of CGI was a mistake. It is not even utilized well, considering the film went to wide release unfinished — human hands and feet were visible, some cats were allegedly coloured bodies left without fur. Having to re-release a film that is already nationwide and has undoubtedly been seen by thousands is unheard of. When it comes to the actual effects, human faces look pasted onto the animal bodies like a bad Snapchat filter.
I would really like to be more eloquent in saying this, but being subjected to this film has dumbed me down so much that I cannot find another way to explain it: the cats in this film are too sexy. This is not a matter of personal opinion, of course, as after seeing the human body in the light Cats put it in, I believe I’m no longer capable of being attracted to it.
Not a scene goes by without a cat’s weird little fuzzy humanoid body — perfectly fit and poised, with noteworthy curves or abs — being bent over, back arched and tail up towards the camera, or where the camera rests far too long on spread open cat legs, sometimes panning too close for comfort to the animated anomalies. Tongues wag around lapping up milk with unnecessary post-production moist sound effects. At one point, Rebel Wilson writhes around on the ground rubbing her cat crotch with legs spread in front of the camera for a handful of uncomfortable minutes that felt more like an hour. All of them rub their horrific furry bodies all over each other like real cats do, but Hooper’s digital naked monsters should absolutely not ever do.
These discomforting erotic details span the entire movie, fill the entire screen more often than not and were completely unneeded. It’s perhaps more unsettling than the film itself to think that a whole team of people worked together to craft this imagery and I hope I never cross paths with any of them.
If there is anything positive to be said about this film, you could say that everyone within it (save for the people behind the CGI) was undoubtedly and unashamedly committed. Not a single song or dance was phoned in by the performers. James Corden was in full force eating all of that garbage out of that trash can. One has to wonder what the film they were all making looked like in their minds. I feel like I watched a case of folie à plusieurs unfold in front of me for two hours and I don’t understand why no one stopped it from happening.
The trailers looked bad already, enough for the film to be treated as a joke long before its release, yet they managed to pluck out the film’s best features. I am haunted by Cats and left the theatre feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. It has to be seen to be believed.