Content warning: animal abuse.
If there is one thing more terrifying than a killer hiding in the shadows, it's a killer hungry for an audience.
And there have been many throughout history. There was the Zodiac Killer, who taunted the police with letters. Charles Manson was a cult leader who sought adoration from followers. And then you have the mass shooters who publicly pursued their ideologies to their violent ends, from the poster boy of incel rage Elliot Rodger to white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque shootings. All of these people wanted to be known. And the trouble with that is, when the media dutifully reports these killers acts in all their vehemence and gruesomeness, they play into the killers’ ploy for free PR. The spotlight they wanted, they got.
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That’s how Don’t F*** With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer, the new murder documentary from Netflix, ends, but we need to understand how it first begins. The three-episode investigation starts with Deanna Thomson and John Green (not the famous YA author), who chance upon a gory video titled “1 boy 2 kittens” posted on Facebook, which shows a mysterious figure vacuum-sealing and suffocating two kittens in a bag. The two amateur investigators, along with other internet strangers, form a Facebook book to track the kitten killer. Armed with the internet’s tools of surveillance, these vigilantes of cyberspace search and search.
But their perp, Luka Magnotta (they and the police, who come in much later, gotta go through major hoops of fire just to land on this name), purposely leads them on. Invigorated by the attention he gets for his atrocities, he commits more terrible acts. He is the protagonist of his own thriller. The documentary acknowledges the cinema of it all, connecting Luka’s crimes to his fascination with the movies Catch Me If You Can and Casablanca, which both glorify men in hiding.
Murderous urges are as old as Cain and Abel, but a killer like Luka Mignotta can only exist because of the internet. His story can only exist because of streaming services that post gore videos, websites that attract victims with hookup proposals, and social media platforms that let anyone in the world make troll accounts. It’s a fine line between the anxiety of being surveilled and the exhibitionist excitement of being watched. How do you draw that line?
At one point, Thomson reflects on whether or not her efforts to pursue the killer were exactly what motivated Mignotta to up his ante. Was chasing after him what provoked him? Did her thirst for justice make her complicit in his crimes? Mignotta isn’t on the run anymore. But look what happened. They made a series about him. It’s called Don’t F*** With Cats, it’s on Netflix, and he is the star.
Don’t F*** With Cats aims to unpack the ethical baggage of true crime storytelling, but it’s hard to say if it succeeds. It employs the same docu beats we’re all used to—reenactments, ominous music, interviewees nervously shifting in their seats—but how does such conventional form serve the show’s experimental goal?
This documentary might leave you fully convinced that Luka Mignotta is a monster, but then what? You still gave him room in your imagination. And you’re probably going to keep giving killers room in your head as you binge on more true crime. Even this article risks being a contradiction, unsure of the epiphany this piece of filmmaking is supposed to leave us with. Perhaps it is a feat that a documentary can lure us in with a playful-sounding title and vacuum—seal its audience inside a quandary with no easy answer. But here is a series that, as thrilling and lively as it is, is also trapped in its own question.