South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival – debuted at SXSW Online 2021 as part of the Midnight Shorts Competition and was written and directed by Leah Shore. Puss dumps us into the middle of the pandemic, 99 days into the isolation of the incredibly frustrated Samantha (Sarah Ellen Stephens), who is so horny that she is, in fact, credited as Horny Samantha. After several failed attempts to get laid, including aggressively hitting on a clueless food delivery guy, she seems resigned to her sexless fate, accompanied only by her cat Potato, her vibrator, and her weirdly hypersexual surroundings. This is where things go completely off the deep end as her cat, Potato, magically morphs into a freaky hybrid Catman Potato (Karl Jacob) in hopes of “giving mommy a hug.”
I’ll cut to the chase, this one didn’t work for me on a few different levels. First, while I understand that the intention is to capture the feeling of being absurdly horny without paying much mind to the reality of it, Samantha doesn’t really resonate. For example, I’ve never beseeched god to kill me if he won’t let me get laid, so that happening more than once in less than ten minutes didn’t land as intended and the character felt more petulant than anything.
Then the absurd cat transformation happens and things go further downhill. I wish the Catman Potato makeup had been slightly more creatively designed. The cat that played Potato (who is adorable and named Boy George) has a pretty distinctive face that could have made for a real nightmare fuel look if his features were better incorporated. Instead, the appliance looks kind of generic and rushed, even for an independent filmmaker.
Plus, the encounter between Catman Potato and Horny Samantha is uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. Despite being played by a grown-ass man, the character retains the tendencies of a cat and calls Samantha mommy, revealing that he transformed because she “wanted a hug” in a completely innocent way devoid of double entendre. That Samantha admits she thinks of the hybrid things as her child, then still attempts (conflictedly, but all the same) to get sexual favors out of the Catman feels pedophilic. I don’t imagine that particular discomfort was the intention given that everything else is played for laughs until now, up to and including the Catman aggressively fondling Samantha in the way that cats love to bat around breasts.
Puss isn’t without a few redeeming bits though, particularly early on. Because this short is about the pandemic it’s able to include some nods that are pretty fun, like the first man that Samantha texts, who is apparently hoarding toilet paper. The text conversations themselves felt like they were trying just a little too hard to be quirky, but they do set up a funny bit during the food delivery scene when the on-screen subtitles temporarily desync from the dialogue. A brief shot of Samantha watching people’s flagrant disregard for pandemic safety got a pretty good laugh because seeing someone smoke through a hole in their mask will never not be funny to me. I’m conflicted because I think I’d still love to see more from writer/director Leah Shore, as they seem to have a good eye for the weird and subversive, conceptually speaking. Puss had a lot of potential and I’m sure there’s a large audience that will like the random quirky angle enough on its own, it just didn’t do much for me.
Rating 5 out of 10 Hitachi Magic Wands