True Crime Tuesday: Don’t F**k with Cats
Helen Archer | On 24, Dec 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Every Tuesday, our resident true crime obsessive gets their fix with a documentary film or series. We call it True Crime Tuesdays.
Most of you will know by now that this is not a polemic aimed at the critics of the most widely-panned film of the year, but is, in fact, Netflix’s new three-part true crime documentary. Directed by Mark Lewis, the programme details the way in which internet sleuths were able to predict a crime and name a killer, thanks to their investigations into the kitten snuff videos he filmed and uploaded onto the internet.
Yes, you read right – kitten snuff videos apparently exist, and the title refers to what is described here as the unwritten law of the internet: you do not f**k with cats. It’s worth pointing out from the top that there are some very distressing images shown, more or less from the outset. While the programme, thankfully, does not screen the videos in full, there’s enough here – from audio and narrated descriptions, to stills of the cats just before they meet their ends, and the killer playing with their dead bodies – to merit an extreme content warning. And all that is just in the first episode, after which Luka Magnotta, the psychopath in question, goes on to film himself killing and dismembering his human victim, 33-year-old Jun Lin, before sending the body parts to political party offices, in one of Canada’s most infamous and disturbing murders.
It’s easy to see why the armchair detectives we are introduced to here would react with such anger to Magnotta’s initial cat films. But their rage at his YouTube videos is channelled with forensic focus into uncovering the identity of the kitten killer, and it’s impressive work. Deanna Thompson aka ‘Baudi Moovin’ (a name given to herself after the Beastie Boys record) and ‘John Green’ are two members of the Facebook collective set up specifically to investigate the animal abuse films, and they talk us through their methods. It’s a fascinating tale of dead ends and false leads, including trolls with names like Jamsey Cramsalot Inhisass posting messages (“Yes I kill kittens LOL”) directly to the group. Eventually Baudi, Green, et al, manage to pin down not only the exact location of the killer, but unmask him entirely. And yet this is just the start of what will prove to be a terrifying true-life tale of cat and mouse.
What emerges is really a story about the internet itself. Luka Magnotta, the man behind the videos, can be seen as an early evocation of what is now influencer culture. His photoshopped photos saw him travel the virtual globe, and his stabs at celebrity included trying out for a modelling TV series, as well as attempting to connect himself with the Homolkas, Canada’s infamous ‘Ken and Barbie killers’. He was obsessed with pop culture and films – most notably Basic Instinct and American Psycho – and left breadcrumbs of clues for the Facebook group he knew was investigating him, playing up to their obsession with him and provoking them with ever-more brazen acts. Fame was his goal, and, ultimately, with an international manhunt which is here portrayed as Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can, with Luka in the DiCaprio role, he achieved exactly what he wanted.
All of which makes for a darkly entertaining documentary, but raises some serious questions of the complicity not just of the Facebook group, but of the filmmakers. The series is pacy and slick, and it attempts to head off the fire it seems to know it will come under by addressing, towards the end, the way in which the humanity of Jun Lin has been overlooked – in real life, but also within this series – in favour of the infamy of the killer.
It closes with an audacious breaking of the fourth wall, in which the audience is implicated in the documentary’s faults – but it feels like a cheap shock tactic, and a deliberate ploy to deflect criticism. The programme mirrors the way in which Magnotta himself presented himself – as a sick entertainment for the internet age – by turning the focus back on the people he performed for, and losing, in the process, any feeling for the victim of his grisly crime, who, here, is pretty much shunted into the background in favour of the shock of the animal cruelty. While true crime has always faced serious accusations about victim-erasure, Don’t F**k with Cats takes it to new levels, even with the arch-knowingness of filmmakers and audience alike.
Don’t F**k with Cats is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £8.99 monthly subscription.