Last week Beloved Solutor ZoeZ included this jarring paragraph in her positive-skewing review of the horror film 1BR, where new tenant Sarah is menaced by an unknown neighbor in her apartment complex:
Then Sarah wakes up to find her cat roasted in her own oven, and you check the run-time and see that there’s still a lot of movie that needs to follow and presumably somehow top “oven cat.”
The key, according to Zoe, is that the cat’s demise is separated from real kitty danger and presented in such an over-the-top way as to elicit guffaws (intentionally or not) rather than revulsion. It’s an outrageous turn in what had been a somewhat conventional and predictable movie. A moment that might throw the movie into another gear*, but more likely sets the bar so high or upends the movie so thoroughly, that the viewer will hold it against each new plot point and find them wanting.
Miller, while motioning for the inclusion of Oven Cat into the general vocabulary, pointed out a recent example. Justin Lin’s Malignant has a bonkers cold open but soon shifts into a somber, by-the-numbers ghost movie. Then springs the Oven Cat, which does not involve a cat at all, but hits the film like a syringe of adrenaline between the ribs. The movie springboards from this into something much more entertaining, though it’s clear we’ll never laugh and love again as we did in that moment.
There’s a tendency for musicals to spring an Oven Cat early on. When the big showstopper number comes a third or halfway through, and the needs of the plot weigh down the rest of the songs (or worse, make them disappear entirely), I have a tendency to itch for the rewind button. Previews can make it difficult to keep a cat in the oven until the right moment, and movies that can actually top what seems like an Oven Can – or whose circumstances are interesting even aside from them – well, those are just good movies.
What are some other Oven Cats, Solutors? Are there good and bad examples? Is it possible to have a litter of Oven Cats?
*Though not to be confused with a gearshift movie like Something Wild, where the movie abruptly changes genre or tone.