There’s a new and not-necessarily awful sub-genre in thrillers these days, where the hose is stepped on for hours until the twist is unravelled and water comes a-flooding out. When it’s done right, we’ve been led down a narrow path, shadows and fog obscuring details that were right in front of us the whole time, entertained even while being distracted. When it’s done wrong, it’s your Uncle George trying aimlessly to get a joke out at the dinner table. The Cat Vanishes is a quirky Argentinean psychological thriller that asks the audience to question sanity as a whole, all the while unable to stop giggling about the card it has up its sleeve.
Luis (played by Luis Luque) is being released from psychiatric care, declared sane after an incident that left a colleague bruised and battered. His wife Beatriz (played by Beatriz Spelzini… wait a minute) is delighted to have her beloved return home, though she can’t shake the rotten feeling that he could slip again one day. This fear escalates much faster than expected when their house cat, which attacked Luis upon arrival, seemingly vanishes without a trace. Beatriz tirelessly hunts for her cat, evidence that this paranoia is just that, battling back nightmares and terrors directed at her husband. The worry for her husband’s sanity in turn creating a stronger worry for her own.
The Cat Vanishes is a game in misdirection. Director Carlos Sorin has found fun ways to cast indecision upon the audience, reframing oft used human gestures, like early morning staring into nothingness and late night cleaning fits, as possible signal flares of psychopathy. The dreams, which are limited to Beatriz’ mind, are more of a card Sorin uses to get the heartbeat going again, as a movie set mostly inside a single home can feel like a bog. However, the re-use of dreams can be a bog too.
The biggest problem with The Cat Vanishes is that it’s hard to believe it’s a feature film. This is a short story stretched out a lot longer than it can maintain. The film itself is just a slow build-up to a single gotcha moment, and by the time you’re there you’ve already started sliding down from the climax, your audience-gut knows SOMETHING must change the status quo. The Twilight Zone has forever been regarded as classics of narration and the master of the twist, and rightfully so, but if you inflated Time Enough at Last by another hour I’m not sure we’d still be celebrating to the same degree. The Cat Vanishes decides to fixate on this one conundrum simply as the means to a punchline. So there, happy, Sorin? You got us, the laughs’ on us and we were looking in the wrong place the whole time! Just hope someone watching doesn’t know where to look, because otherwise they don’t have much else to look forward to.