Mumblegore is a relatively new term that has blossomed with the low budget, yet character-driven, indie horror films that have been released in the past decade. It was born out of the Mumblecore genre, introduced in 2002 with films such as Funny HA HA (2002) by Andrew Bujalski and Puffy Chair (2005) by the Duplass Brothers.
Mumblegore takes that genre into the realm of horror, with films such as Creep (2014), The Sacrament (2013), and V/H/S (2012) as prime examples. Due to lower budgets and almost no studio pressure, these films are much more experimental. A few directors and writers have been credited with the birth and rise of this strange subgenre. Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S), Joe Swanberg (V/H/S), and Ti West (House of the Devil, The Sacrament) are just a few of the people working to create strange yet terrifying stories that push the boundaries of horror.
I want to expand the definition, which is my goal with this column. I will try to venture outside of those well-known directors and scour the corners of the Internet to expand the idea of mumblegore.
Xander Robin’s 2016 film Are We Not Cats markets itself as a hair-raising love story. No, it is not suspenseful or thrilling. It is literally about hair. Are We Not Cats is a totally different version of body horror that is apropos of the mumblegore genre. It is not full of gory practical effects and bodies fall apart. Rather, it is about an obsession with harvesting and eating human hair.
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Are We Not Cats starts with a desperate Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson) who has lost his apartment, his job, and his girlfriend all in one day. He picks up small jobs to keep himself afloat, which is how he meets Anya (Chelsea Lopez). She is the image of a manic pixie dream girl, with her pink wigs, eclectic style, and seeming willingness to do anything a boy asks. But as they get to know each other, Anya admits that she has trichophagia, or an obsession with eating hair. She lifts up her vibrant wig and reveals a few remaining wisps of hair; she has eaten herself bald. Eli deals with trichophagia, too, but on a much smaller scale—he just nibbles on his beard hair when he’s nervous. In their shared compulsion, the two of them begin forming an unusual bond.
Are We Not Cats hits the low-budget aesthetic and mentality of the mumblegore scene. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Robin said, “I wanted to make [Are We Not Cats], probably for $10,000. I was inspired by Medicine for Melancholy [and its director] Barry Jenkins. He went to FSU, he made a movie for the price of a used car, and it helped him.” Robin approached this film with the idea that it would be made with little money and ultimately, he shows how to make a piece of body horror that delivers disgusting punches while also focusing on emotional impact. While he did not reveal the exact budget, he said, “there are cars you can buy for that price.”
That emotional impact comes from Much of Are We Not Cats’ focus on the blossoming love between Eli and Anya, rather than her need to consume hair. This is a tale about two weirdos finding each other and accepting each other, hair obsession and all. Yes, there is a rather bloody climax, and skin-crawling moments as we watch Anya ball up hair and eat it, but these moments are backseat to their love story. The film is about love and acceptance, particularly as Eli realizes that Anya has eaten almost all of his hair while he was asleep. Despite his newfound baldness, Eli doesn’t run; he understands Anya’s compulsion and approaches it with empathy rather than disgust. It is a rather strange love story, but isn’t much different from a film about two addicts. Robin said, “It’s an exaggeration of something that does exist. And because there is this exaggeration, hopefully you’re able to project your own vice onto that. It’s like a drug movie without the drugs.”
That being said, the moments of body horror are truly horrific. Eating that much hair can lead to intestinal blockages, or massive hairballs, that can ultimately kill someone. Due to the amount she eats, Anya is shown throwing up masses of blood and hair (think that one scene from Raw (2016), but somehow worse). Anya’s trichophagia leads to a squirm-in-your-seat finale where Eli must plunge his hands into her stomach to remove the massive hairball that has formed in her guts. It is truly fascinating to see how much Are We Not Cats grossed me out when other pieces of body horror don’t even cause me to flinch. There is something so visceral about human hair in its stringiness and ability to wind around anything it touches that makes this film one of the more nauseating horror movies I’ve ever seen.
Like Lace Crater, the subject of last month’s column, Are We Not Cats is a prime example of how mumblegore can deliver effective and repulsive body horror as well as an emotional love story on a minimal budget. It is a rumination on loneliness and connection while also examining true disgust. Trichophagia is an actual disorder, and while this is an exaggerated situation, Anya’s situation could ostensibly happen in the real world. Robin takes something as seemingly innocuous as hair and makes it a place of terror, but also a place of acceptance and affection. Are We Not Cats is a skilled union of love and gore that will make you recoil and cheer at the same time.
Are We Not Cats is currently streaming on Shudder. Have you seen Are We Not Cats? What did you think? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!