Unable to come to terms with her best friend and roommate Izzy’s death, Anna (Grace Glowicki) does everything possible to avoid that which she cannot fix by focusing her energy on something she can. Or, at least, something she thinks she can fix. Because there are no guarantees Anna will find Booger the cat once he leaves out the fire escape window. No guarantees he wants to come back.

He isn’t even her cat, after all. Izzy is the one who found him stowed away in their shared apartment. She’s the one who decided to adopt him as theirs. Losing him after having just lost her thus becomes a bridge too far for Anna, already forced to comprehend a future alone, without the one person on Earth she never thought she had to worry about truly leaving.

So whether it’s just a task to distract herself from reality or a delusional hope that finding Booger will somehow bring Izzy back, this is Anna’s quest. Reclaim a piece of the future she thought she had coming by finding him, or lose herself to the painful realization there’s no going back.

Anyone who has seen Mary Dauterman’s short film “Wakey Wakey” should be aware that the journey set for Anna in her feature debut, Booger, won’t be straightforward or without ample room for interpretation. 80% or so of that 2019 work is a nightmare––the manifestation of its lead character’s fears and anxieties blurring the line between fact and fiction in a way that carries those emotions through to a violent, hilarious real-world response to a deep-seated, unspoken query.

Much of Anna’s personal struggle exists on a similar level once she projects onto finding this cat everything she has thus far repressed. She stops going to work. She accuses her boyfriend Max (Garrick Bernard) of co-opting her grief while refusing to acknowledge his own. And she even begins acting like Booger, too: craving cat food; coughing up hairballs; randomly knocking things over. The blame, regret, anger, and sorrow is mixed to trap her in a self-destructive fugue state of misappropriated attention.

The cat becomes Anna’s sole conduit to Izzy. A totem of her undying love, empathy, and irreverent humor (examples of which are played for us via cellphone videos throughout). Why? Because he’s the easiest target to pick in order to avoid living. She could choose Max instead. Or Izzy’s mother Joyce (Marcia DeBonis). She could choose work as something tangible and productive, too.

Selecting Booger is thus the product of a conscious desire to prolong the inevitable and enhance her suffering. Anna’s transformation is a psychological defense mechanism to steel herself from the feelings she refuses to let out. To be more like Booger is to be aloof and indifferent. He sees Izzy is gone and life moves on––why not ignore and forget any of it happened too? If only it could be so simple. If only we could push tragedy to the side and move forward without a second thought. If only Max and Joyce and memories of Izzy would just leave her alone.

Dauterman’s message is relatable: wanting to be numb rather than confront the pain should resonate with most audiences regardless of whether the genre device used proves too much to wrap their heads around. Because things do get weird (wait until Heather Matarazzo arrives as a stranger all too willing to get up close and personal without the cautious filter of Max and Joyce) and disgusting (you can’t have a cat without copious hair and blood), but Glowicki does a great job grounding things in the confused malaise of a woman suddenly devoid of ambition beyond finding that cat.

For me it all comes down to something Joyce asks closer to the end. Caught on the verge of tears, she looks at Anna and requests that she call her sometimes. Like the cat provides a connection to Izzy for Anna, Anna provides that same connection for Joyce. It’s the choice between remembering through the eyes of those Izzy loved or shutting it all away to languish in the darkness of her absence. And it’s a choice some of us need help making.

Booger had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Grade: B

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