Spoiler Free: A Disturbing but Compelling Documentary about the Dangers of the Internet and our obsession with true crime.
You may have heard a lot of people discussing the new Netflix documentary, ‘Don’t F*** With Cats.’ I must say that with its title, I expected something far different from what I saw. It is not easy to write a spoiler-free review as so much of the documentary relies on unexpected circumstances. The documentary is not for the faint-hearted. It contains some incredibly disturbing images of animal abuse and murder and I have to admit that I had to avert my eyes on several occasions and at one point leave the room. This is not really a programme for animal lovers or anyone with a nervous disposition. To subvert the much-used disclaimer on Crimewatch – you will not sleep well after viewing this and you will have nightmares.
The documentary focuses on a group of computer ‘nerds’ / fanatical internet users / amateur online sleuths, who view a truly horrific animal abuse video on YouTube in which two kittens are tortured and murdered. The ‘nerds’ decide to band together to try and locate who the poster is in an attempt to bring them to justice. They are led by Deanna Thompson, who narrates much of the film in an informal and at times somewhat droll manner, which does not always reflect the gravity of the subject matter. The group become obsessive in their hunt for the animal abuser. They pause the original video, frame by frame for something – anything – that will give them a clue to the killer’s whereabouts. Plug sockets and cigarette packets are scrutinised. A specific blanket showing a wolf is tracked down through eBay. The expertise of an incredibly niche online vacuum cleaner forum is consulted. Metadata is cross-referenced with Google Maps and images are reverse searched.
It soon becomes apparent that the animal abuser is playing a game with the group and appears to delight in taunting them that they will never locate him. The abuser appears to be heavily influenced by Hollywood movie characters, in particular the notorious con artist and fugitive Frank Abagnale portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and the lead character of Brett Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel, American Psycho. At one point the group’s investigations take them down the wrong path and they erroneously believe they have found their culprit, only for there to be devastating consequences.
Yet it is not the graphic images or the crimes undertaken that prove to be the most disturbing aspect of the series. That accolade is reserved for the hidden truths and messages portrayed in the subtext, which are truly terrifying. We see the ultimate power of the internet – being able to track people no matter how little information they reveal about themselves. The virtual footprints left behind every action. We also see the true evil that some are capable of as well as what an all-encompassing and unchecked obsession with serial killers can lead to. Is it ever healthy to be fascinated by such things and what permits an interest to develop into an obsession? More importantly why do we focus on these killers almost to the exclusion of their victims?
As is the case with most Netflix documentaries, this is over-long and could have been edited to two episodes instead of three. The first episode is incredibly fast paced and sadly this speed is lost in the subsequent episodes. There is also something inherently wrong about focusing a documentary on someone who has committed such heinous crimes, in particular when the criminal has deliberately set out to gain notoriety. However, more than anything the show remains compulsive viewing, albeit disturbing.