I’ve already lost someone. Assigning the lowest possible rating to Cat Sick Blues, a movie with a $12,000 Kickstarter campaign that only claims it to be a gonzo slasher, will read to at least one person as a confirmation of how deliciously rough and objectionable it is. If the film actually clung to that formula and all its requisite tropes – creeping killer, resourceful final girl, teasing jump scares and spectacularly gory kills – it’d be accomplished enough for us to shelve it in the annals of low-budget horror projects and call it a day; not necessarily great but sating for somebody. Director, co-writer, editor and producer Dave Jackson instead decides that he has something to say, and aspires to a demented fable about an arrested-development killer, the binder of women he violates, and the gawking online media cultures that buoy both into glamorous figures of fun. It’s a fair enough goal, but in failing to ground the statement in any coherent context, the result is an empty-headed slog of dream-like techniques and what-the-fuckery that make Jackson seem like a puerile Justin Kurzel rather than the punk-rock Lynch/Carpenter love child that genre zealots might mistake him for.
After taking drags from a cat bong and watching YouTube clips of a clumsy kitten, two Melbourne stoners meet their savage, synth-driven deaths at the hands of a creepy intruder (Matthew C. Vaughn) in a black cat mask and child-size red shirt. Following this is the introduction to heroine Laura (Meg Spencer), the woman who makes cash by making said kitten videos, and as she is wondering what stops to pull out next to get more views and rent money, a stranger (Noah Moon) shows up at the door. His obsession with her prized cat is evidently pathological, given his earpiece and tetchy mannerisms, so Jackson presents him as a kind of bumbling giant unaware of his own strength, like Lennie out of Of Mice and Men. Presumably, this extends to the instance where he rapes Laura on camera, leaving her trauma-stricken while the video winds up online. So far, so “edgy”, or at least as much as the scratch-font/thrash metal-accompanied opening credits and the lack of anything that might justify the glaring oversight of male responsibility in these situations is a trend that will continue right through to the final frame.
The rest of the film switches between these two plot strands. The cat killer, Ted, uses clawed hands and a barbed dildo1 to rack up nine kills, on the command of a frenzied demon he encounters in a childhood flashback. There’s bloody hallucinations, twitching fits, a droning soundtrack by Michael Revert, and webcam-girl viewing/masturbation sessions to clue us into the fact that this is some kind of lingering psychological damage, but the real reason for this behaviour is only offered up in literally the last scene, leaving us with cheap shorthands to go on up until that point. Laura, meanwhile, is now paralysed in her own life, and on her mother’s blunt command, she goes to a counselling group. There she not only runs into Ted but goes out on a dinner date with him. I have to assume that the writers are only concerned with whether she would recognise Ted as the murderer now being talked about by shock jocks, because the most basic and nagging question of why she would so willfully trust any sketchy guy after the incident is totally ignored to keep the plot moving. The fact that the scales are so violently tipped towards Ted in terms of screentime sans properly placed character development for either person is bewildering, yet also revealing of the filmmakers’ misplaced priority of shock value over coherence.
Just as confused are the aesthetic choices on show. Shot on the cheap, the film largely takes place in low light and mist; a generic vessel for the script’s fatally muddled worldview. Jackson and DOP Daniel Cowan sometimes opt for different modes: the flashback to Don’s childhood is done combines warped sound and the cranked-up visual speeds of a silent film, while an extended sequence of Laura becoming physically decrepit and being committed to a mental asylum is better thought of as an elaborate tribute to the likes of Patrick than any interesting piece of characterisation. Nothing represents this more than the scene where Don invades a hostel to slaughter four tourists and get his number up, in which Jackson uses slow-mo footage of evisceration and bloodspill, along with a downbeat electronica track (“Repulsion” by Mistabishi, an otherwise decent song) that drowns the scene in cut-rate ethereality and on-the-nose lyrics in the vein of every bad modern movie needle drop you’ve ever heard (“I’ll rip your skin / straight off your body”). When even a stroppy comedic satire like Dude Bro Party Massacre III can have a better bearing on the aesthetic direction of its own murder-fests than this, there’s a lot to answer for.
The rest of the film is a morose downward spiral into media critiques more contrived than the likes of Wasted on the Young. Rather than exploring who or what controls these economies of mass communication the characters finds them in – and judging from their presence in the film from video-sharing sites to commerical radio, this is relevant by the filmmakers’ own invocation – we are left with shrill caricatures of what Jackson and co-writer Andrew Gallacher think the millions of people who gaze at and react to these incidents-cum-memes are like. When Laura encounters impossibly rude gawkers holding smartphones aloft outside her apartment, the over-simplicity and smug satisfaction leaps off the screen, taking us from a fakely messed-up horror film to a very bad Black Mirror episode.
I’ve no doubt on my mind that the filmmakers will wear any allegations of moral corruption on their sleeve as a sign of their crowd-funded rebellion against good taste. However many Facebook wall posts they get expressing as much, they are wrong to. Not only are its uselessly broad critiques of internet and rape cultures a pretentious attempt to offset a fetish for cruel, nigh-unwatchable sexual violence, but in purveying such thoughtless material with the same gawking outlook as the trends the film is looking to dismantle, it plays into the same moronic complacency that fuels those phenomena in the first place.