Note: The following article contains graphic details of crimes that some readers might find upsetting.
Don't F**k with Cats is unlike your usual true-crime documentary series, turning the bizarre and downright disturbing Luka Magnotta case upside down by tackling it from a different perspective.
Netflix has been churning out five-star documentaries in recent years and, while Don't F**k with Cats doesn't come without flaws, the way the streaming giant and director Mark Lewis chose to put internet sleuths at the forefront of the storytelling offered something unique.
It was these internet users, via a Facebook group, who helped identify and later compile evidence against Luka Magnotta after some videos surfaced on the internet of an anonymous person killing cats.
Outraged by what they saw, and at the breaking of one of the internet's highest regarded rules (yep, you guessed it, DON'T F**K WITH CATS), a number of amateur sleuths banded together to hunt down the culprit.
Is that a good thing? Well, perhaps in purely formal documentary terms it offers a new perspective and a new angle. But this isn't a documentary about flower arranging or competitive angling: it's about murder.
At a time where interest in true crime is arguably at an all-time high, the approach has shone a spotlight on a potentially reckless response to the genre. With shows like Making a Murderer, The Jinx and the podcast Serial inspiring armchair detectives and sparking endless investigative forum threads, the level of information shared can be a hindrance as much as a help.
This three-part series forces the viewer to question their intrigue, with the internet sleuths that drove this particular narrative also asking themselves whether they were the chicken or the egg.
It's one thing to sit watching at home and discuss a case with your friends and family. It's fine to share those opinions online. But there's a point where the line between private discussion and that discussion's real-world consequences becomes blurred, and it behooves us all to at least be aware of it.
In choosing to take this stance for the documentary, Don't F**k With Cats actually fails to address certain elements of the wider case. Perhaps unsurprisingly when you consider the title, much more focus was placed on Magnotta's crimes against felines than the actual human victim who he was found guilty of luring to his death.
Jun Lin (we've presented his name in the westernised order forename-surname because that's the form chiefly used in the documentary) was an international student from Wuhan, the capital of Central China's Hubei province, and he had moved to Montreal to study computer engineering at Concordia University.
Although Lin's family did not feature in the documentary, they delivered a victim impact statement following the verdict back at the 2014 trial.
According to a CBC article from the time, Jun Lin was described as a smart young man who was committed to his studies, and who was the pride of his family. He had been working part-time alongside his University course and his family said that he had plans to stay in Canada and was hoping to start a business.
The statement also detailed the heartbreak and devastating loss felt by the family. "I will never see his smiling face on video chat or hear about his new accomplishments or hear his laugh. Lin Jun's birthday is on December 30 and he will never be there for his birthday, or ours," his father told the court.
It was revealed in Don't F**k With Cats that Lin was dismembered and that some parts of his body were mailed to political parties. Others were also sent to two schools in Vancouver (via a 2012 article in The Hamilton Spectator).
It was also detailed in the docu-series that Lin's torso was recovered from a suitcase outside the apartment Mognotta had been renting in Montreal. While it was made clear in the show that he had been decapitated, it was not explained that the head was recovered after some time from Montreal's Angrignon Park (via CTV News) when police received an anonymous tip. They had been determined to find this in order to give closure to Lin's family.
Jun Lin was cremated and his ashes were buried at Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.
The brutal killing caused concern and anger in China, and many believed the crime was racially motivated. According to the Globe and Mail's Beijing-based reporter Mark MacKinnon (via a 2012 report published on Yahoo! News), it raised further questions about public safety in Canada particularly because, at that time, Lin's murder was the second killing of a Chinese student in just over a year. In April 2011, York University student Liu Qian was killed in Toronto.
Benjamin Xu, close to Jun Lin, was interviewed for Don't F**k With Cats and he detailed how he came to discover what had happened to his best friend as well as painting more of a picture of what he was like. Benjamin described Jun as "shy" and said that it was "extremely unusual" for nobody to have heard from him.
After a video depicting Jun Lin's murder was posted online in May 2012, Luka Magnotta left Canada and soon became the subject of an international manhunt. Due to the nature of the crime and the disturbing developments that followed, the search garnered worldwide media attention.
One month later, in June, Magnotta was apprehended in an internet cafe in Berlin. It was said that he was reading information about himself when he was caught. He was extradited back to Canada to face charges.
In 2012 Interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae asked that Canadians mourn the victim rather than "in any way, shape or form" celebrate Magnotta's notoriety. "Let's not forget that a young man was killed in the most terrible of circumstances," he said, before later adding, "His family in China is mourning, and his friends are in mourning, and all of Canada should be mourning for the person who died, rather than… celebrate the notoriety of Mr Magnotta."
His pleas are well founded: it was reported recently that "fans" of Magnotta had formed a Facebook group to discuss his case, and even assert his innocence, claiming – illogically –that he has been somehow framed for his crimes. It's an especially queasy development given the revelation in the documentary that the killer was so desperate for notoriety that he created fake fan pages to himself.
Magnotta pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. In December 2014, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Magnotta was sentenced to another 19 years for four other charges, to be served concurrently. According to an archival CBC News report, Magnotta "closed his eyes and showed no emotion" when the verdict was read.
Another by-product of Don't F**k With Cats's approach is the lack of information or context surrounding Luka Magnotta himself. While we'd agree with Bob Rae that he shouldn't be awarded infamy, if you're going to make a documentary about the case then there should have been a little more factual information included.
The documentary leads to the moment that Magnotta is questioned in Canada before the trial begins, but then gives its final moments to speculating on whether a mystery man named "Manny Lopez" existed.
Magnotta had claimed that he had been abused by this person and that, according to Magnotta's mother, the murder had occurred "under his direction". The internet sleuths argued that it was just another alias or part of Magnotta's elaborate Basic Instinct-inspired plan, also branding it a "bullshit alibi" and a "con". Authorities found no evidence that "Manny" existed.
(Luka's mother asserts that a "third hand" in the videos is Manny's. She told TMZ: "In the cat killing video there is a third hand, as you can see, my son's two hands and third hand. You can't see a face so it's unidentifiable... but Manny was there." The documentary does not pursue this as a line of inquiry.)
Luka's background and mental health was referenced within the series, but largely to push the narrative of the internet sleuths. The series doesn't go deeper or offer much in the way of deep psychological insight.
Having claimed diminished responsibility at trial, Magnotta's mental state at the time of the crimes was reported to be a big focus in court.
Following the verdict, Magnotta's lawyer Luc Leclair said that his client suffered "as the experts have said, from schizophrenia and personality disorder. When you first see him, it's the histrionic personality that comes forward. However, with a bit of time it's the schizophrenia that surfaces".
During the trial, Leclair had argued that Magnotta was in a psychotic state at the time of the crimes and did not know that what he was doing was wrong. However, Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier told the jurors that Lin's killing was organised and premeditated, describing Magnotta as "purposeful, mindful, ultra-organised and ultimately responsible for his actions".
According to a 2014 report in the Montreal Gazette, which published details from a 124-page report filed in court, Magnotta had told a psychiatrist that he had started hearing voices at the age of 17, and had been previously treated for severe mental illness.
None of this, of course, is in any way a reason for the behaviour which lead to the awful crime that Magnotta was convicted of and we're not about to feed into the prejudicial belief that mental illness leads to criminal behaviour. But if Don't F**k With Cats was going to start going down the road of explaining motive or profiling him from sleuths' perspectives, the series should have included further analysis from the experts.
Criminal psychology is also a big part of the true-crime genre, with many viewers tuning in to learn about the darkest parts of the human psyche. While psychology has never been a "hard science" – ie concrete predictions cannot be made from observations in the way that the laws of physics work – the insights offered by those who have spent careers studying the subject are surely to be considered of more value than mere public opinion.
Luka Magnotta is currently serving his sentence behind bars. In 2017, it was reported that he was planning to get married to another inmate in Pont-Cartier prison where they were both detained.
Don't F**k With Cats is available now on Netflix.
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