I’ve never seen the Cats musical and had no real interest in seeing the film adaptation even though it stars Judi Dench, Idris Elba, and some other actors I generally like. Frankly, the trailer for the film just looked weird and apparently the film itself is actually much worse. It currently has a 19 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and some of those critics claim it’s the worst thing they have ever seen. I’m not even sure they mean the worst movie, maybe just the worst thing. Here’s NPR in a review headlined “‘Cats’: Spay It.”
It’s hard to know how to react to Cats, other than gape in slack-jawed amazement that the dare has continued for so long. The two trailers released in advance of the film have been a cultural phenomenon in themselves, a meme-friendly trip to the uncatty valley, but there’s never any point in its 110-minute running time where it seems less strange or disconcerting. In the true Cats tradition, the idea should have been scuttled in the testing phase, when the skintight melding of faces and bodies with “digital fur technology” looked glitchy and unsettling, like one of the ghosts from a Japanese horror movie.
From a site called Geeks of Color, this review was somehow considered positive by Rotten Tomatoes:
From the moment the film begins to when it ends, it is as though you have fallen into a drug-induced coma. I felt as though I was unable to wake up, slowly sinking deeper and deeper into madness. Once it’s over, like a dream (or nightmare) you will struggle to recall a detail, but that sinking feeling will leave you nauseous.
A site called The Spool called it a “hellscape” that could result in brain damage:
What is Cats about, anyway? Sure, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical is ostensibly based on a book of T.S. Eliot poems about cats, but ask anyone who’s seen the stage show and they don’t ever seem to have a satisfactory answer. It’s a plotless show about nothing, really; like Seinfeld, but Kramer is neutered. Now, along comes Tom Hooper to show us just how far he can take nothing, and it turns out it’s a jaw-dropping hellscape from which few return unscathed. We’re up, up, up to the Heaviside Layer now, and we’re not coming down without some serious brain damage.
The horror movie comparisons appear in quite a few of these reviews. The reviewer at entertainment.ie compared it to watching the Shining:
Within minutes of watching ‘Cats’, I wanted to leave the theatre. I quite like people, and cats, but these cat-human things that were first introduced in the ‘Cats’ trailer – which caused a furore when it was released last July as many experienced the uncanny valley regarding the design of the character – were seriously weirding me out. They’re singing something about jellicles and all I can think of is the heebie jeebies. In fact, the last time I felt this level of consistent discomfort through a film was ‘The Shining’, that’s how deep the sense of horror and anticipation that it could get worse ran.
The site Metro UK says it’s erotic but in a disturbing way:
Even the movie itself can’t stop obsessing about the genitals — or lack thereof. I mean, what are the rules here? The lady cats have furry boobs, but the boy cats have no bulges down below — Idris Elba’s equipment appears alarmingly sliced off, Jason Derulo has said he’s ‘125 per cent’ sure his penis was removed in post-production, while Ray Winstone drew hoots of laughter — for all the wrong reasons. For adult viewers it borders on the erotic: it’s like a fetish ball with all your favourite celebrities naked and covered in fur.
There is a thin line between idiocy and genius, and Cats pukes a hairball on it and rubs its ass all over it. This is a movie where a cat version of Rebel Wilson wears a halter top underneath a fur skinsuit that she takes off with a zipper, before leading an army of cockroaches in a song and dance number alongside mice with human baby faces.
Some reviewers were so impacted by the film they resorted to personal stories:
In the autumn of 2015, I adopted two lovely stray cats while living in Berlin. After I took them to the vet to be neutered, they returned with upset stomachs due to the anaesthetic used. I left them alone for a few hours while I went to the supermarket – when I came back, in either a random tragedy or a deliberate act of feline revenge – one of them had managed to direct his explosive diarrhoea all over the bottom shelf of my bookcase.
Naively I assumed this was the most abhorrent cat-related incident I would ever bear witness to. I suppose, in some twisted way, I should be impressed Tom Hooper has managed to best this horrifying visual experience with his all-singing, all-dancing abomination.
The same review has a sidebar with the heading “Enjoyment.” Beneath it the review has written, “I felt the light inside me slowly fading.” That made me laugh out loud.
I’ve saved the best review for last. This was only published on Twitter. It’s R-rated and involves furries, but it’s also pretty funny:
this is my review of cats pic.twitter.com/88o4dt7b1b
— David Farrier (@davidfarrier) December 19, 2019
The review concludes: “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. This is what death feels like. This is the worst ketamine trip. This is awful. This is not a film, this is chaos. This is the CGI from Scorpion King. I don’t know if I’m five minutes in or five hours. Nothing matters anymore. This is the death of all things. F**k it.”
Even the stars of the film couldn’t really tell you what it’s about as this clip from Variety makes clear:
Given all of that, I probably won’t be seeing Cats over the Christmas season or, you know, ever. But it does sound like this is destined to join the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a kind of so-bad-its-good-erotic-musical at midnight screenings. Here’s the trailer in case you somehow missed it: