What happens when you mix cats, a couple of Facebook watchdogs and a deranged killer who publishes homicidal videos to the Internet? One of the most talked-about (and disturbing) true-crime shows in recent memory.
(SPOILER WARNING: Plot Details Ahead)
“Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer,” about a group of Facebook sleuths attempting to track down Luka Magnotta, the Montreal native arrested for the killing and dismembering of Jun Lin in 2012 – this after Magnotta anonymously recorded himself torturing and killing several cats – has been clawing at Netflix viewers ever since its December release. Just two weeks after debuting, “Cats” was listed as one of Netflix’s Top 5 most-watched documentaries of 2019. One month later, the pulpy three-part series remains one of streamer’s buzzier titles.
Variety recently caught up with director Mark Lewis as well as one of the series’ primary gumshoes, Deanna Thompson, who, using the alias Baudi Moovan, moonlights as an online investigator when she’s not crunching data for a Las Vegas casino.
How did this all come together, Mark?
Mark: I vaguely remember the story making international news years ago. As I began to look at it more and more, I was absolutely flabbergasted. The story that proceeded the murder of this extraordinary crime – these internet sleuths that operated, the story with what they had done – it was all so amazing. What you saw (in “Cats”) is a real-time evolution of what happened on the Internet. Not only was it an unbelievable story, it had something incredibly important to say about internet culture and the difficulty of prosecuting these crimes.
What has the Internet reaction been like for you personally, Deanna?
Deanna: It’s been really weird, man. I’ve been paying attention to the responses but really, at a higher level…There are 10,000 reactions and 9,999 of them are wonderful. What’s been so special for me is to see young women who’ve been inspired to go out and do their own investigative work, that’s been very cool…But then there’s the one reaction that’s like, “you’re responsible for the murder.” How the f–k am I responsible? (Pauses) It’s very uncomfortable. It’s been hard. It’s been really hard. It’s bittersweet.
Was there anything filmed that didn’t make it into the documentary?
Mark: There was a message (Deanna) got from Luka. Do you want to explain?
Deanna: A lot of the time when he communicated with us, he would tag us online. So one day he sends me a Nietzsche quote that really rattled me and was very prolific. The quote was, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Meaning that, “Hey, be careful that you don’t get so involved that you become me.”
Mark: This was a case of the hunters becoming the hunted. It was an amazing true life cat-and-mouse game – almost like a real-time evolution of a psychopathic killer on the Internet – in that way it feels like a thriller like a James Patterson novel where there were real twists and turns.
Deanna: One of my roles in the groups was his psychology and his linguistics. I would often try to get into his head space so the message to me was very cautious. We did film it, which kinda set me back personally at the time. I was like “Ok, I need to stop analyzing every sentence so much.”
Have you received any communications from Luka since he has been in prison?
Deanna: I don’t know – I don’t even want to say his name. I have no idea.
Mark: From what I understand is that he’s still perpetuating the story of Manny Lopez.
Deanna: Why does he think that’s going to do anything?
Mark: It’s extraordinary and sad, really. What you do see in this film, and in all of those communications, is that there was never an ounce of remorse. He rarely talks about the murder of Jun Lin, it’s almost like he can’t talk about it.
Any plans to pursue a full-time career as a detective, Deanna?
Deanna: I’m really good at my job (in Las Vegas). Look, I’m in my 40s now. I don’t have any formal education in law enforcement. But a lot of people joke around, “You should be in the C.I.A.! You should be in the F.B.I.!” When I was younger I actually wanted to be in the C.I.A…
Mark: In some ways, it’s not surprising at how impressive their work is – it’s just phenomenal, really. I think that’s the big appeal of the TV series, people going, ‘Wow, perhaps I could do that!’ The fact that they’re such regular, humble people. They’re not trained and yet what they’re doing is forensic work.
Deanna: This was 2010. Law enforcement back then they were like ‘What? this is internet hoo ha.’ I do hope that law enforcement takes these things more seriously.
Were you frustrated by the actions of Canadian law enforcement?
Deanna: A lot of people ask me, “Are you upset with law enforcement?” No, I’m frustrated by the system. If somebody would’ve knocked on Luka’s door and just had a conversation with him and done a wellness check, then all of this could’ve been prevented. I absolutely believe that. But I’m not upset because law enforcement has a certain set of parameters that they can abide by. They’re not going to put a lot of effort into someone who’s killing cats on the Internet.
Mark: It’s incredibly difficult to prosecute people for internet crimes, so they concentrated rightly on the murder itself.
Were you ever worried about opening the door for copy-cat killers?
Deanna: I think everybody in the documentary is worried about it in the back of their minds. There’s a subset of the planet who are either involved with or obsessed with watching true crime shows. There’s a whole TV channel devoted to this genre. Are we being held to a higher standard than other people? Were we worried about it? I can’t speak for Mark or John.I was worried about that for sure. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t.
Mark: I was worried about fueling the celebrity of these crimes, which is why we attacked that head on and talked about the complicities of those who hunted him down. As program makers and audiences – yes, there’s a whole culture out there – people are fascinated with Jack the Ripper. Does that mean we should not do the series? Absolutely not. There are very important things to say.
What was your reaction to Luka’s mother, who more or less blames yourself and John Green for inciting violence?
Deanna: She’s a mom. I don’t have any ill will towards her. She hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t necessarily think she was the best mom, and look, that’s her son. I just think a lot of people would rather bury their heads in the sand than face reality. He murdered a wonderful man, and he murdered a human being on video. And I am putting myself in her position, it’s very hard, (but) I don’t think she has critical thinking skills and has fully come to terms with what he did. But yeah, I have no ill will towards her and I have no hate in my heart for me. It’s important to remember she can still communicate with her son and Jun Lin’s family cannot.
Let’s talk about the title, “Don’t F*** With Cats.”
Mark: The title came out of the very real truth: he chose to kill cats. It was this sort of opening salvo – his intention was to explain the ire of the Internet, to break that golden rule. So the title was always important to us. This is a story of the evolution of a psychopathic killer. And the opening salvo was “How do you get the most attention?” In that sense, the title, yes, of course, its controversial and eye catching but we did it for a purpose.
Netflix listed “Don’t F*** With Cats” as one of their top-streamed docs of 2019. Any idea how many people have actually watched it?
Mark:I don’t know the numbers at all – they haven’t shared them. I can see, though, that the Internet is on fire – to see that reaction is really intriguing.
Was Netflix involved from the beginning?
Mark: Yeah, they commissioned it. I have a production called Raw TV where I work as an executive producer and director, and a I made a film a couple years back called, “Silk Road: Drugs, Death and the Dark Web” that I made that for the BBC which they saw and liked. Anyway, I became very, very interested in Internet crime…but really, once we sort of lifted the lid and saw the tentacles of this particular story – the extraordinary thing is when you look at the story itself you couldn’t have scripted a more unusual story and with such extraordinary protagonists and heroes. Deanna and John Green are extraordinary people, very humble people.
Are you planning on a follow-up documentary to “Don’t F**k With Cats”? Or is this case closed?
Mark: No I don’t think so. It was very important that we made that conclusion. As Deanna said ‘it’s time to turn off the machine’ and in this case it is.