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Are We Not Cats is the kind of strange, small-budget, slice of life movie that hits me in a particular sweet spot. The film focuses on a bizarre fetish/addiction that is weird and rather dangerous and has a pair of unique and fascinating names. Are We Not Cats also has one of the best oddly intriguing titles outside of a Guy Maddin movie. That the title is a strange, twisted, comment on the movie rather than a direct expression from the movie only makes me like it more.
Are We Not Cats stars Michael Patrick Nicholson as Eli, a loser with nowhere to live. Eli’s having a rough day. He’s lost his job as a garbage man, immediately after finding out his girlfriend is cheating on him. When he arrives back at his parents’ home they inform him they are moving to Arizona from their home in New York City and he’s welcome to visit, i.e, he’s not going with them.
Lucky enough, if you want to call this luck, Eli’s dad has gifted him a moving truck that he can keep if he moves out of their house ASAP. Eli takes the offer and turns the back of the truck into a mobile apartment. To pick up cash, Eli takes a job delivering a car engine to an unnamed place in snowy upstate New York. It’s here that the plot of this modest, 77-minute feature actually begins to take shape.
After making his delivery, Eli meets Kyle (Michael Modere) who introduces him to drinking radiator fluid for a quick high. Kyle also introduces Eli to his girlfriend, Anya (Chelsea Lopez), whom Eli immediately falls in love with. Anya and Eli share a very particular and off-putting fetish, they like to eat human hair. Specifically, Eli has a nervous habit of picking hair from his arm or his beard and eating it while Anya prefers a more extreme way of satisfying her fetish/addiction.
Eating hair is pretty gross but what you may not know is that it’s quite dangerous and bad for your body. Turns out, the human body can’t process hair as it does food. Eating hair can lead to a very dangerous condition that has been dubbed Rapunzel Syndrome after the Grimm's fairy tale character and her legendary locks. Rapunzel Syndrome is also called Trichophagia, another odd and intriguing title.
Trichophagia is at the center of the plot of Are We Not Cats and that is a bold and fascinating choice by first time feature director Xander Robin. Robin’s filming style is funky, as is the awesome soundtrack which combines some deep R&B cuts with some experimental jazz. The soundtrack is the other aspect of Eli and Anya’s attraction as they share a similar taste in music.
That, of course, is secondary to the hair eating which is depicted in the fashion of Lynchian horror, though less threatening. I don’t want to give too much away though. Even if I did, you’d still have to see it for yourself, but Rapunzel Syndrome has a dangerous consequence that takes a physical form. It’s not body horror in the pop trope sense because this is a legit medical condition, but Are We Not Cats plays it like body horror and the effect is as stomach churning.
I called Are We Not Cats a slice of life story and indeed it is. It’s a slice of the most unique kind of life, one that explores a little known corner of the fetish world and explores it with a pair of compelling characters leading the way. Eli and Anya aren’t particularly special, they aren’t classically handsome or beautiful, but they are unique and interesting and Xander Robin directs them in fascinating ways.
Are We Not Cats is not for everyone. If you are put off by the hair eating, don’t bother. If you aren’t grossed out by the premise of the movie and you don’t mind some visceral, stomach turning squick, you might find yourself as strangely compelled by Are We Not Cats as I was. Are We Not Cats is in limited release and should be available soon on some On-Demand formats.