The Mary Dauterman-written and directed Booger contains disturbing subject matter. But not in its depiction of the gross and mundane minutiae of everyday life — bile, vomit, wet hair — but in its excavation of those remote recesses of grief that we’re too afraid to countenance. Booger contains disturbing subject matter, and for this reason it’s a stunning, heartbreaking revelation.
Booger is grotesque and dire as it exposes the desperate, mean, selfish, and blinkered husks we become after loss, as we attempt to survive earth-shattering grief. This film is stark as it is gutting, and unassuming as it is unpretentious, all as it crawls into its protagonist and allows lead Grace Glowicki to shine as a woman under the influence of the kind of grief so heavy and big it seems unsurvivable.
Dauterman’s sympathetically searing lens follows Anna (Glowicki) in the aftermath of her best friend and roommate Izzy’s death. As Anna adjusts to life alone in an apartment she once shared with her vibrant, dear friend, she is beset by two additional and simultaneous tragedies: Izzy’s stray-but-adopted cat Booger bites Anna, and then swiftly escapes into the city about her. As Anna trawls through her neighborhood looking for Booger, she begins to experience strange changes within herself, stemming from Booger’s mark on her hand.
Anna is mystified and disturbed as she finds herself slowly turning into a cat — fur begins growing from Booger’s bite mark, she begins coughing up hairballs, and craving cat food. The film not so much follows Anna as it gives her space to experience and witness within herself these changes, allowing her the grace of time and lack of judgment to unfurl into her new being, examine it, feel whatever she needs to feel. Dauterman’s lens allows Anna what those around her won’t or cannot: an understanding gaze that, without being patronizing, gives Anna room enough to survive, in her own messed up way.
I first fell in love with Glowicki in 2019’s Tito, for her unabashed way of immersing herself, mind and body, into a strange but lovable role; I fell in love with her for moving so tenderly on screen that it brought me to tears. Glowicki is no different in Booger. Dauterman seems to understand Glowicki’s physical and emotional fearlessness as an actor, and gives the latter free rein here. As Anna slowly morphs into a cat, into a strange iteration of Booger, Glowicki’s back begins arching deeper and deeper; as Anna becomes increasingly catlike, begins to do all the gross things felines apparently love to do, Glowicki veritably leans into the monstrousness. Instead of being horrific, the effect of Glowicki’s Anna’s crawling, hissing, vomiting, dry-heaving, and prickliness are all actually deeply, paradoxically humanizing.
As Anna is carried deeper and deeper into cathood — into her unique grief — she distances her perfect boyfriend, loses employment, even her apartment; she loses, effectively, her perfect life, all as she is hurled into the animalistic. Glowicki is a marvel and this film seems to understand that, following her with a keen sensitivity and fearlessness into the macabre, allowing her to unfurl and fit into the contours of a massive grief, ultimately and masterfully showing us not only what healing looks like, but what it looks like to even recognize the need for healing in the first place.
In centering the gross, in diving headlong into Anna’s transformation, the film by extension honors and sympathetically depicts all those unsavory, negative aspects of grief that it is unpleasant for others to witness, because others like to witness and encourage only the positive act of healing. As those around Anna tell her she ought to heal already, ought to be a positive and active member of society who works, supports herself, while also being good and kind and having fun with her boyfriend. Anna instead postpones healing, choosing to linger in solitude, to watch herself become a cat. In grief, we isolate ourselves, we might distract ourselves so as to not deal with the pain, we might fall out of step with society, we might neglect cleanliness, those we love, we might militate against perfection, languish in a mess — this is something Booger tenderly understands, and like a soft hand on our shoulder, shows us, through Anna, that none of our feelings are wrong.
Booger is captivating and incisive for its understanding of the prickliness of grief, and for its understanding of Glowicki. The film allows Glowicki to shine, and Glowicki handles this character with the utmost respect, allowing her to disgustingly fuck up and ruin her life’s perfection as she embodies the most selfish and self-destructive, animalistic aspects of grief. The film lingers in all that is selfish and unhelpful or mentally unhealthy, fading to black just as Anna is ready to heal — this is the film’s genius.