Movie trailer for Cat Person turns the viral short story into a high-stakes thriller

Cat Person was a short story by author Kristen Roupenian that went weirdly viral upon its initial publication in The New Yorker in December 2017. I say "weirdly" not as a pejorative — it's a great story — but simply because short fiction typically isn't the sort of thing that "goes viral." There's also the fact that, unlike the other more speculative / surrealist or dark fantasy stories in Roupenian's debut collection, Cat Person stands out for both its stark realism, and the way it subverts a lot of dramatic expectations without losing any of its impact-fulness.

The story is about a twenty-year-old college student named Margot who works at a movie theatre, where she meets an older man named Robert. A courtship ensues, and Robert seems both oddly sweet, and just sort of odd. But even during the more positive parts of their romantic dalliance, Roupenian writes with a looming air of tension and dread. The whole time, you're waiting for the other shoe to drop as it were. And when it does, it's … not what you'd typically expect from a work a fiction. But the understated ending — the pedestrian, almost casual nature of the "twist" (or lackthereof) — is also the thing that makes it so horrifying. Roupenian tapped into something primal that resonated with a lot of women in particular, who have witnessed firsthand the casual horror of everyday misogyny, whose dating lives are inextricable from that looming air of dread and tension.

(The story had a brief viral resurgence in 2021 as well, when it sparked a separate discussion about the role of consent in the real-life inspirations that lead to works of fiction.)

The upcoming film adaptation of Cat Person stars Emilia Jones and Nicholas Braun as Margot and Robert, and is directed by Susanna Fogel (Booksmart) from a script by Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex). Judging by the trailer above, the film seems to be leaning heavily into the thriller aspects — though it also might be turning the tale into more a stalker horror story. Film adaptations always tend to amp up the drama, but I'm also not sure how a film could end with the same blunt gutpunch as the prose did, and still satisfy an audience. Some of the early reviews seem to suggest that this amplified horror might actually undermine the everyday horror that made the story resonate. Either way, it's out October 6 in the US, and I'll still watch it when it's out.