There’s an instant absurdist appeal to making a live action cat movie that I find endlessly entertaining, whether it be a “lighthearted” family comedy like Nine Lives or a weirdo genre film like The Night of 1,000 Cats or something in-between like The Cat from Outer Space. 2003’s made-for-Animal Planet TV movie Ghost Cat also splits the difference between those feline cinema subcategories. Starring a before-she-was-famous Ellen Page, still firmly in the Trailer Park Boys/I Downloaded a Ghost phase of her career, Ghost Cat is a cheaply ugly & transparently vapid time-waster of a family picture. Alternately marketed as a family drama under the titles Mrs. Ashboro’s Cat and The Cat that Came Back, it was only packaged as a feline horror thriller as an afterthought. Ghost Cat doesn’t have the heart to make a villain out of its titular threat, instead playing the ghost cat as a hero to animals everywhere & giving her the not-at-all-threatening name Margaret. Still, I found myself at least mildly charmed by the film’s quaintly campy thrills throughout and left it with a big, dumb smile on my face. The inane pleasures of a live action cat movie are that inherently strong.
Ghost Cat’s titular animal spirit is too lovable to demonize, so the film instead turns to the most tried & true villains of children’s media (and life in general): white businessmen. Greedy white men conspire to rob an old lady of her family home and her friendly neighbor of her animal rescue operation to make way for an Evil Real Estate Development Deal. Once the old lady dies alone at home, along with her cat (yikes! that’s depressing) the only thing standing in the way of the evil real estate development is the cat’s ghost and its only living human friend, a young girl played by Page. The ghost cat initially appears in the young girl’s stress-induced nightmares about her own dead mother, wildly meowing in an artfully inane montage of flames and black & white photographs. From there it does things you’d expect a cat’s ghost to do: mysteriously knocking items off shelves, walking across piano keys, and invisibly “making biscuits” on bedspreads. The cat’s ghostly deeds become more purposefully heroic as the film goes on, though, and Margaret eventually saves the day several times over by scratching the evil white men in the face and thwarting their shady contract deals by getting the right papers in the right people’s hands.
Made soon after national stories like the Enron scandal and Martha Stewart’s insider trading conviction, Ghost Cat has a surprising amount to say about how financial institutions are gleefully willing to rip off & tear down the people. The film even solidifies the threat by having its business cretins directly attack the most innocent victims possible: abused & neglected animals. It’s bad enough when they start the film pressuring an old woman to forfeit her property, but by the end the ghost cat has to stop them from literally gassing an entire animal shelter’s worth of rescues to death. That’s some top shelf TV movie villainy right there. Unfortunately, focusing the story’s weight on the evils of white man business dealings means there’s less room in the runtime for ghost cat tomfoolery, which is obviously the film’s main draw. I was satiated by the few ridiculous cat cam & feline nightmare sequences the film could afford me, but for the most part there just wasn’t nearly enough ghost cat in my Ghost Cat. This film is strictly for mid-afternoon lazy-watching, an easy on the brain indulgence that somewhat satisfies in its titular inanity, but leaves a lot of room to explore in future feline spirit realm cinema. I’ll be there for those future ghost cat experiments in TV movie artistry, but sadly I doubt Ellen Page will be joining me for the ride. She’s got better things to do. I don’t.