Originally published on Flickering Myth on 10/03/17.
You’ve probably seen women fighting on film before, but it’s unlikely that you’ll have ever seen anything as remotely odd and visceral as Catfight. The entire film is based around not just one, but a series of surprisingly brutal and bloody altercations between the central leading ladies, feeding all sorts of internal monologues about everything from the shape of violence in the media, to notes on class and the positively bonkers real-world political climate. It’s a satire of sorts; a jet black comedy that’s wonky as hell but also thoroughly entertaining thanks to a pair of knockout performances.
It almost goes without saying that the main catfights in question, the violence that kicks all of the above into play, are really the selling point here. The attached political potshots and thinly-veiled nods to the entitled American upper-class basically just end up as entirely that and only that: thinly-veiled and thoroughly obvious. They make up some neat plot-dressing, and help to drive the leading duo towards each other fairly well, but subtlety clearly isn’t Tukel’s game at all.
It’s lucky then that staging violence apparently is, with the cleverly bookmarked fights coming off as not just sharp and vicious to watch, but also incredibly ugly. These aren’t silly scraps between warring housewives; Tukel frames the action like a deleted scene from Fight Club, all broken noses and damaged jaws. It’s violence with consequence, driven down deep into not just what it means to be feminine, but what it means to be truly angry and fed up with the world you’ve committed to.
If anything, when the punches are flying thick and fast, it feels like the blood, gore and inherent earthiness of the fighting could’ve actually been dialled up a tad. After a confident start, the latter two catfights seems to waver and plateau out, repeating the same harsh moments again and again when there’s still plenty of room to mix things up and take the whole thing up a level. Tukel seems desperate to shock and awe with the violence, but gets a little too scared to fully commit; Catfight is violent for sure, but there’s no real escalation where there really should be.
Oh and Heche are still dazzling as the brawling duo though, bouncing off of each tremendously well and really submitting to their constantly shifting roles. Even apart they manage to command hugely diverse moods between acts, cleverly teetering between empathetic wholesome individuals, and very much the opposite. Again, there’s not an awful lot of room for subtlety in Tukel’s writing, but the pair take what they can when they can, and together build a powerful leading alliance that pulls the scripting up just enough to be believable.
There’s a tremendous amount of room for improvement on a technical level, and overall Catfight never really feels like it fully reaches the point its angrily gesturing towards throughout, but it’s difficult to deny that underneath its critical mishaps, it’s a seriously entertaining watch. Fairly unusual and heavy-handed, but unique, bold and fantastically performed.
Catfight is out in UK cinemas now.