One of the beautiful things about any great film festival is the celebration of diversity. Film is a language with nearly infinite possibilities for expression. At the Miami International Film Festival, such diversity is a treasured hallmark. Documentaries, drama, action, adventure, and all genres in-between find a place on screens all around South Florida. One of the oldest and most immortal of all genres — horror — didn’t weigh heavily at MIFF this year, but it’s not about quantity, it’s quality and Are We Not Cats is one top-notch, grade-a quality horror film, though, maybe not for all horror fans.
A good horror should give you characters you care about
or even care enough about to hate.
Are We Not Cats tells the story of Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson), a thirty-something suffering from a severe case of wanderlust. Eli also has issues with trichotillomania and trichophagia, the conditions where a person pulls out their hair and sometimes eats it, but we’ll get to that a little later. “When it rains, it pours” becomes an understatement for Eli. In a matter of days, Eli’s girlfriend dumps him, his future-less job drops him, and his parents leave him behind without a place to live.
Eli soon meets Kyle (Michael Godere), a man forever locked in party mode. Along with Kyle, Eli also meets Anya (Chelsea LJ Lopez), Kyle’s eccentric, Elvin-cute girlfriend. Anya’s free spirit attitude enraptures Eli. As the trio spends more time together, Eli’s relationship with Anya grows more intimate since they share the same obsessive condition. Eli and Anya’s connection ultimately becomes the thrust of the film, becoming more dangerous and gross with every scene.
A good horror should give you characters you care about or even care enough about to hate. This way, threatening or killing a liked character causes an unease in the audience while killing a douchebag causes elation. Second, the film should soak you in tension, but that can take many forms. Most horror movies do this with tons of blood, jump scares, and loud, sudden sounds. That’s the easy way. But Writer/Director Xander Robin used a uniquely different approach.
So, where do the scares come from in Are We Not Cats? The scariest place of all — reality. The rom-com portions of the movie work great. Edgar Wright-inspired whip-pans and cuts play well with the type of dark humor going on in the script. Those rom-com portions, while sometimes falling into eye-rolling tropes, also serve to make the horror bits all the more squirm-inducing. Eli and Anya both feast upon themselves and it gets ugly fast. Eli, in particular, also has a bad habit of scratching at his back until it’s raw. The film’s minimalist approach serves a much greater payoff for the viewer. Particularly during other scenes where the gore feels suddenly turned up to 11.
If you’re the kind of horror movie fan who likes heads and limbs being hacked off then Are We Not Cats won’t satiate your bloodlust. But if you love to squirm, to feel your skin crawl, to connect with broken people and watch them fall deeper into their cracks, then Are We Not Cats is must-watch horror.