The first thing you need to know about director Mary Dauterman’s debut feature-length film, Booger, is that it wants to gross you out. So much so, in fact, that at the film’s Fantasia Film Festival premiere, audience members were handed a paper bag with the words “Official Booger Barf Bag” drawn on it in black sharpie. But of course, that should have been obvious from the title.
Booger opens with cellphone footage of roommates and best friends Anna (Grace Glowicki) and Izzy (Sofia Dobrushin) discovering a stray cat who seems to have wandered into their apartment through the fire escape window. Due to the cat’s dirty fur and general unkempt appearance, they affectionately name him Booger. Through a rapid montage, we see Anna go from initially being repulsed by the little feline to falling in love with it.
Cut to the present day, and Anna is sitting alone, ignoring her phone calls. We find out that Izzy has lost her life in a cycling accident, and Anna is clearly not dealing with it well. She texts Izzy’s phone and, hearing it go off in the other room, she proceeds to find it and look through it, treating the audience to another collection of quick cut clips.
In between depressive-obsessive bouts of looking through Izzy’s phone and ignoring the people around her, Anna catches Booger licking a houseplant, and tries to shoo him away, lest he eat something he shouldn’t and proceed to puke it up, as cats are wont to do. Startled, Booger bites Anna and runs out the fire escape, forcing Anna to go look for him.
This article may contain minor spoilers for Booger, which premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival.
This is where the movie’s through line begins in earnest, as Anna almost immediately begins to exude feline traits; her senses are heightened and attuned to the sounds of bugs and other small moving objects, she contorts herself into catlike shapes when falling asleep, she wakes up under tables or outside in the grass, she begins licking her own hair and coughing up furballs, and she develops a taste for cat food (along with something even grosser later on which we won’t spoil here).
She seemingly begins to develop physical symptoms as well. The wound from Booger’s bite begins to fester and grow similarly to what’s seen in Nia DaCosta’s brilliant Candyman requel, she starts to grow long, black hair on her arms, and her teeth get sharper. Grace Glowicki’s physical performance in these scenes is masterful, and Dauterman even commented during the film’s Q&A session that the performance itself was one of her favorite special effects.
In between scenes of Anna deliriously searching for Booger and dealing with the fallout of Izzy’s passing, the film alternates between more cellphone footage of the times Izzy and Anna spent together, sometimes repeating previous clips with additional context, and truly hypnotic dream sequences that are a visual feast. Eventually, the other shoe drops, and we find out more about the connection between Izzy and Booger.
Grief Is the Focus, but Booger Isn’t Without Laughs
At its core, Booger is very much a story about grief and the different ways it can manifest, and the film makes no bones that being the focus. Anna’s apparent adoption of catlike tendencies mirrors real world grief symptoms that many will be familiar with: loss of appetite, apathy, abandonment of personal grooming habits, and disconnection with those around you.
Anna is cold to her boyfriend and Izzy’s mom, both of whom she seemingly begrudges for what she sees as them co-opting what she’s going through, even though both are just trying to reach out and connect with her while also dealing with the blow of losing Izzy in their own ways. She essentially abandons her boss and her job, stops paying rent and bills, and her apartment quickly begins to fall into disrepair.
Anna wishes the world would leave her alone so that she could just sit quietly and mourn the death of her friend in peace, but the rest of the world around her is also mourning that death, and they want her to let them in so that they can share in that grieving process and try to move on together.
If this all sounds like really heavy subject matter, it may come as a relief to know that the film is not without a hefty dose of levity. One scene featuring an equal parts nosy and oblivious pet shop owner is sure to have audiences in stitches. Anna’s endlessly patient and charmingly goofy boyfriend, played perfectly by Garrick Bernard, is also worth quite a few laughs, and the chemistry between Bernard and Glowicki is a highlight.
Booger Is Likely to Resonate Most with Those Dealing with Loss
Booger never fully commits to its female-turned-feline premise, choosing instead to pull back at the very last second to allow Anna to shed the more toxic elements of her grief and begin to heal.
There’s none of the murder or mayhem common to other body horror projects — the trouble caused by Anna to those around her during her descent into feline-dom can best be described as mildly to irksomely inconvenient, at the very worst. Little to no blood is shed, and no character outside of Anna ever has any real reason to fear anything happening around them. There’s definitely plenty for general audiences to get squeamish about, but nothing that hardcore gore hounds won’t be used to, and that may be enough for some of the more extreme genre fans to find the film disappointing.
But Booger is a film that also largely defies any genre conventions, making it not quite a horror and not quite a comedy, but imbued with the most human and relatable aspects of both. It’s likely to become a cathartic film for anyone dealing with grief and loss, and that’s something to be commended. It’s not working with a huge budget, but the practical effects are A-plus, and when it wants to hit you right in the gag reflex, Booger does that effectively as well.
You can read more about the film at the Fantasia Film Festival website. Be sure to watch this space for more information about Booger‘s wide release.