In a year that's been as suffocating for big-budget major studio filmmaking as 2019, it is an out-and-out miracle that Cats could exist. Mind you, the film is not good - the film is, indeed, horribly bad - the film is, arguably, one of the most deeply misguided, misconceived, and poorly-executed cinematic farragoes of the 21st Century. But by Christ, the film is not safe. The film does not compromise. It might be the most undiluted, true-to-its-vision film of 2019, and a vision it most unquestionably has. The sort of visions that turn characters in Victorian horror stories into babbling piles of tormented madness, sure. But something doesn't have to be nice to be a vision.

The film is an adaptation of the 1981 musical revue by Andrew Lloyd Webber that somehow became one of the most successful stage productions in the history of the world despite being inscrutable and unlikable. As written by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper, Cats the movie is at least a touch less inscrutable: it has an actual conflict with stakes, though I could easily see where somebody might miss this. Basically, it goes like this: a young white cat, Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is abandoned by a human, and is found by the Jellicle Cats, a group of housecats and strays unified by their curious religious practice: once a year, they gather for the Jellicle Ball under the Jellicle Moon to hear the Jellicle Leader, Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) make the Jellicle Choice, in which one cat who can argue for their worthiness is invited to ascend to the Heavyside Layer - basically Jellicle Heaven - and be reborn into a new Jellicle life. It would be swell if I could complete this review typing out "Jellicle" more often than I type out "the".

This year's Jellicle Ball is under attack from the notorious Macavity, the mystery cat (Idris Elba), who wants to be made the Jellicle choice, and so kidnaps all of the other candidates using magic. Victoria is, for some time the only cat who seems to notice him skulking around, but she's too busy trying to figure out what in the fuck is happening to comment on it. Also, there are like, at least a half-dozen male cats who at some point or another attempt to hit on her. It is an incredibly horny movie, Cats is; hornier by a lot than the show was, and the show included a bit where cast members in body stockings would rub up against audience members.

It's a much more legible narrative object than the stage musical, and upon much reflection, I have decided this is to its benefit. The theatrical Cats is genuinely incomprehensible: at a certain point, the only way to interact with it is just giving up and accepting that you're basically watching a dance recital about people in leotards pretending to be cats and singing nonsense words made up by T.S. Eliot at his most uncharacteristically jolly. The cinematic Cats gives us just enough of a plot hook that you can't do that: it keeps insistently reminding you how ineffably wrong everything about the scenario and execution is. That is to say, it keeps refreshing itself, so every time there's a risk of getting too used to the fundamental grotesqueness of the filmmaking and the concept, something comes along to slap you in the face and remind you to be suitably aghast at how monumentally fucked up it is that you're watching an extremely expensive feature film adaptation of Cats built on the back of some of the most visually disgusting CGI in history.

That CGI, under the infamous name of "digital fur technology", has been used to paint a great many famous people - Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ray Winstone, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, and first-time movie star Taylor Swift, among others - in a coat of eye-melting fuzzy computer graphics that look like cat fur as much as they look like anything else that exists in the world, I guess. The human-to-cat design is apocalyptic; human lips and noses up top, freakish prehensile tails below, growing out of the point where recognisable human buttocks attach to the lower back. The choreography and blocking make very certain that we're thinking about all of things, too, even more so during the frequent moments that we're thrust into a face-to-face confrontation with how unpleasantly horny the film is about all of this. Tom Hooper, whose directorial career has in no way prepared us for this (there is not, to be fair, any director whose career would have prepared us for this), has put a great deal of effort into guiding his cast to move with cat-like behavior, which is merely strange when it comes to forcing animals who aren't quadrupeds to crawl about like they are. But when it comes to cats' emotional behaviors, the results are gruesome beyond reason or description. Cats rub their faces against each other, their humans, and their environments; humans with eerie catlike faces doing the same is weirdly intimate in a tremendously gross way, and when that eerie catlike face is also recognisably that of Dame Judi Dench, it is altogether depraved. Even worse is what  they do with their tails - so much! The worst thing is that cats, when they're in a good mood, stick their tails directly up and vibrate them a bit. When the monstrosities of Cats do this, as they very prominently do in a wide shot that lovingly shows the entire damn cast striking the same pose, it takes a much more sober and forgiving viewer than I to avoid the thought that the film has given us a whole chorus line of hard-ons. But really, everything that happens with the cats' tails is profoundly indecent.

Reader, I haven't loved a movie this much all year. Cats is the kind of unholy, comprhensively bad filmmaking that I was so sure was impossible to get at this point in cinema history that I had almost forgotten it could still exist. This showcases The Room levels of insanity in every aspect of how the film is put together; I could give you a dozen examples of the most wrong-headed things that happen (robotic cockroaches with human faces! Cats leaping and gliding back down so slowly that it feels like they're underwater! Letting Idris Elba sing!), and still leave you with three times that many wonderful surprises to come. And every one of them, in the moment that it occurs, feels like the worst thing you've ever seen, while simultaneously being the most delightful. This is a work of limitless surprises and pure creativity: whatever the ever-living shit was going through Hooper's mind as he came up with the staging, it did not arrive there because he wanted to take the easy route. And however it was possible for this many incredibly talented actors to winded up tethered to this project, they all seem to be having a fucking blast committing as hard as possible to one of the worst conceits in the history of cinematic anthropomorphism. It is a giddy, joyful piece of filmmaking, unashamedly proud of everything it's doing, and almost because everything it's doing is so deeply misguided, that joy is so potent it's contagious. I was blissed out the whole time, like being falling-down drunk only without any melancholic or angry overtones and no hangover. This is a film of unrelenting upbeat energy, so horrible that it's only really possible to react to it with a kind of delirious manic good cheer. I cannot say that we'd be better of if more movies were like Cats, but the world would be a hell of a lot more interesting.