Booger (2023)

Booger seen at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2023

Writer/director Mary Dauterman’s feature debut Booger opens with phone footage shot by Izzy Walker (Sofie Dobrushin) of a stray black cat making itself at home on the bed of her disgusted flatmate Anna (Grace Glowicki), who is not at all happy about this turn of events (“It probably has worms,” Anna protests). Yet the two best friends let the cat stay with them, naming it Booger, and eventually even Anna will come round to the “little freak” who has adopted them as its human hosts in the Brooklyn apartment. 

By the next scene in the film, a few years later, Izzy has died, and Anna, in her unexpressed sorry, is ignoring calls from Izzy’s mother Joyce (Marcia Debonis) who is trying to arrange the memorial service, from her boss Devon (Richard Perez) who wants her to come back to work, and from her landlord Dennis (Jordan Carlos) who wants the rent paid. Both Joyce and Anna’s boyfriend Max (Garrick Bernard) are trying to work through their own mourning for Izzy, while worrying about Anna who is, as Max correctly observes, “refusing to feel feelings” and has cut herself off as much from her own emotions as from the world outside her apartment. So deep is the funk in which Anna has blanketed herself that she cannot even recognise it for what it is, let alone reach out for help.

What gets her moving again is a parallel loss. As she tries to stop Booger licking a toxic houseplant, the cat bites her and then vanishes out the window – and Anna will spend the rest of the film, like Llewyn Davis or Rell and Clarence, searching for the missing cat, on a quest that assumes psychological, even existential dimensions, lending an external form to Anna’s inner disorientation and confused efforts to rescue herself as much as the cat. Meanwhile Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse, 1995) appears as the film’s other crazy cat lady, the animal refuge worker Ellen – perhaps named for Ellen Ripley who spends the last third of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) looking for her moggy Jones. As the bite on Anna’s hand festers into a grotesque wound for which a mere band-aid seems inadequate, not only does this covered sore reflect the trauma that she is barely concealing, but it also, like a werewolf’s (or werecat’s) bite, seems gradually to be transforming Anna into a feline (if not quite feelin’) creature, all hairballs and purrs and cravings for cat food. 

Intercutting Anna’s quiet breakdown with footage of happier times from Izzy’s smartphone, Booger dramatises loss as a strange, reeling odyssey paved with guilt, delusion and animalistic escapism. Equally funny and sad, it maps out the stages of grief as a fuzzy, furry descent, with an eventual emergence. Dauterman’s idiosyncratic take on numbing pain and recovery is pure cat(harsis) – and its dizzyingly surreal imagery serves only to amplify the addled state of a heroine on the slow, psychotronic path to healing. 

strap: W(h)erecat: Mary Dauterman’s surreally transformative feature debut tracks a quietly grief-numbed woman who has lost that loving feline

© Anton Bitel