‘Cat Sick Blues’ Is Not for the Squeamish

This review was originally published December 18, 2015 on on Dirge Magazine.

Based on the trailer, I suspected that Cat Sick Blues from Phantasmes Video would delve into the depths of depravity, but I didn’t anticipate that it would be so culturally relevant.

Its premise seems simple enough: a young woman named Claire is traumatized by the unexpected death of her cat. When attending a support group for other folks whose companion animals are recently deceased, she strikes up a friendship with Ted, who is, as the group’s moderator points out, “in the same boat.” But Ted has far more problematic issues.

In retrospect, it’s impossible not to think of Travis Bickle wooing Betsy in Taxi Driver, but Cat Sick Blues doesn’t traffic in homage. It thrusts everything that’s currently wrong with social media in your face along with an angry, oversized, prosthetic cat penis. Treating animals as props for fame and profit; the dark side of online celebrities; the cynical tendency to cast judgment on and mock total strangers; the virulent spread of misogyny via the Internet; and the sexism of slasher movies–all of this gets painfully skewered on the film’s razor sharp claws.

Cat Sick Blues performs one hell of a tightrope act, shifting from grisly splatter film to pitch black comedy with frightening ease, hovering over the line between empathy and outright derision but never committing firmly to either. The funny parts evoke a feeling akin to the euphoria you experience in between waves of nausea. The film does not hold back when revealing Ted’s ghastly inner fantasies, and these sequences are viscerally disturbing, reminiscent of the murder tableaux of fictional Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, the body dysmorphia-induced slaughter of Randall Tier on NBC’s Hannibal, or the schizophrenic visions of real-life killer Joseph “The Shoemaker” Kallinger.

Although Ted is posited as the villain (and a serial killer at that), no one in Cat Sick Blues is without flaws. They are painted not in shades of grey, but in shades of blood red. There are enough displays of questionable behavior and deep-seated neuroses to go around. On the other hand, the film doesn’t judge its characters, twisting one claw in your side at the end so that you shift your sympathies in a startling way.

From a technical perspective, Cat Sick Blues is impressive, opening with the most skillful blend of titles and music I’ve seen in quite some time, while the score plays with expectations of suspense as well as diegetic and non-diegetic sound. The practical effects, as far as the humans are concerned, are gross enough to astonish even jaded gorehounds. Thankfully, however, all the cat injuries are committed on obviously stuffed animals and the sexualized violence that is shown is utilized to terrify instead of titillate.

It’s hard for me to state outright that I liked Cat Sick Blues, precisely because it is so unpleasant to watch. Yet, the world it shows us is the world we are currently stuck in, and if we ever want to change that world, we should think long and hard about what Cat Sick Blues is saying instead of turning away in disgust.

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