I have been happily married for almost 24 years. It’s been decades since I’ve had to be part of the “dating scene.” And I’ve never felt happier about this reality than while watching Cat Man, a constantly unnerving thriller directed by Suzanne Vogel about the dangers of text message dating that gets under your skin with its paranoid atmosphere and is able to scare you away. human contact… forever. Cat-Man does for modern dating what Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction” did for extramarital affairs in 1987.
Cat Man began his life as a short story published in The New Yorker in 2017. I was not familiar with this work, despite the fact that it became a viral sensation. It was for the best. Having read it now, I can tell you that Suzanne Vogel adheres to the text very precisely when adapting this story for the screen, down to the smallest details, such as a novelty lighter in the form of a frog with a cigarette in her mouth. But the Cat-Man plays better when you don’t know in which direction he is moving, keeps you in suspense from deep bouts of premonition of the horrors that may befall the main character, Margot.
To that end, stop reading now if you don’t know anything about the Cat Person. Going into this cold is my most urgent recommendation.
At the beginning, Margot (CODA sensation Emilia Jones) works behind the counter of an arthouse cinema. There she meets Robert (Nicholas Brown), an elderly patron with a modest demeanor who seems to interest Margot. She’s flirting casually. She watches him in the hall and imagines how they start a conversation. When he really asks for her number, she gives it, and their texting relationship begins.
From that moment on, I kept the plot details to a minimum. Margot and Robert’s social ties develop and then regress, and the motives underlying each mood swing can be interpreted differently by each side. In one revealing scene, Robert tells Margot how he interpreted one of her text responses, and it’s so very different from how Emilia Jones and Suzanne Vogel led us to believe that Margot interpreted the interaction, we begin to doubt who might be misleading whom.
Let me show you my age again, because Cat-Man deliberately portrays modern dating as a nightmarish balancing act, often carried out with the help of technologies designed to bring us closer, but usually ending with the construction of walls. In “Cat People”, the sound of a text message coming in can cause goosebumps.
Fogler does make one interesting decision in “Cat Man,” which only occasionally works (and sometimes knocks me out of the narrative). She portrays Margot as an unreliable narrator, reinforcing her vivid imagination by showing us the scenes that happen in her head before pulling back to show that, surprisingly, she was only letting her thoughts wander. Only Fogler goes overboard with tricks in the early stages of the film, so I too often doubted Margot’s perception of what we were shown, in case it was another fiction. It works against the Cat-Man when it depends on whether we trust Margot’s point of view on Robert and his actions. But the film shakes that uncertainty for a stronger second hour.
Without knowing the upcoming plot twists, I can say that Cat-Man needs time to get hooked, although Emilia Jones and Nicholas Brown are both wonderful in their complex roles, which sometimes have to be cute, sometimes have to be creepy, and sometimes even need to be charmingly creepy. Jones, in particular, achieves an impressively fine balance with the material that keeps our allegiance to Margot reeling, adding fuel to the already raging fire of the film’s paranoia.
When the “Cat People” reach the final line of the story, there are 20 to 30 minutes left until the end of the film. The way Fogler decides to finish this dance will not leave you indifferent. The social constraint that arises in the first hour turns out to be necessary for the chaos of the second hour of the film. Now excuse me while I break my cell phone into a thousand pieces, just in case.
More from Sundance 2023:
Jonathan Majors earns rave reviews for Dreams Magazine.
Indigo Girls get an inspiring documentary.
Our upcoming 2023 movie list, which features several Sundance movies.