Are We Not Cats is the kind of film that will work dramatically differently depending on who is watching. Anyone with an eye for independent film will find something in the characters and direction of the opening scenes. The pace and plot will leave most wondering where it is headed, however. Some will find this intriguing, others may get bored.
Knowing anything about the film, seeing anything from the marketing or the trailer or even just considering the title, will cement expectations of where it will lead. Knowing as little as possible about Are We Not Cats would be ideal, though that doesn’t really offer much for a recommendation. This is as difficult a film to recommend as it is to describe. At less than 80 minutes, at least those who will find it insufferable [and there will likely me many] won’t have much of a time commitment.
Most sources I’ve seen indicate the film is horror, which is applicable but may be misleading. Certainly, Are We Not Cats is bizarre and ends up somewhere horror adjacent, but don’t have too stringent of expectations. The tone of where it ends up is much more hopeful and tender than your typical horror film. I’ve always been a proponent that horror films don’t have to be scary as long as the genre elements are there -- Are We Not Cats has some of those elements but the tone is strikingly different. Genre fans will find delights here, though they’ll have to stick with it until it reveals itself.
Ultimately, Are We Not Cats is an unexpectedly sweet romance that offers a bit more for film viewers with genre leanings. Personally, I really enjoyed waiting to see where the film was going and both the climax and the conclusion were satisfying.
What it’s about: Eli [Michael Patrick Nicholson] is a down-on-his-luck dude. He loses his job, his girlfriend, and place [his parents unexpectedly move to Arizona] all in one day. After his friend gets him a job delivering a engine upstate, he comes across Kyle, a maniac in need of a ride. This eventually leads him to Anya [Chelsea Lopez], an underground artist with alluring peculiarities. They spend a night together that starts as a nice meet-cute but leads to unexpected places.
The aesthetic at the start of the film reminds me of the Safdie Bros’ Good Time. It has the same ultra-present quality and gives New York City the same strange shine.
This world also seems to be aligned with those of Quentin Dupieux [Rubber, Wrong Cops] and Joel Potrykus [Buzzard] but with a straight-man at the center devolving into its depths. Xavier Robin directs the film with a sense of normalcy that slowly, then completely, dives into weirdness.
Name dropping these indie filmmakers probably isn’t fair to Are We Not Cats because it isn’t on the level of those filmmakers’ best work. Xander Robin definitely shows off skills in his narrative and artistic vision. The film’s rawness makes it unique, so as long as Robin can keep his voice, his films will only get better.
At the point where the film is at its weirdness apex, it adds in a dose of realism that is strangely off putting. The boldest beat in a film with a number of bold turns is injecting just enough realism to realize this is purely fantasy.
The two leads both give interesting performances. They play into the film’s uneasiness but they don’t overdo. This is key for how you need to feel by the film’s end. They need to be weird and emotionally remote, but also vulnerable and redeeming for the ending to work. And they nail it.