Fantastic Fest: Morgan Spurlock’s RATS Is Delightfully Grotesque
I am not, as the kids say, a-scared of rats. Snakes are unpleasant, hornets make me nervous, and spiders scare the everloving piss out of me - but rats? To me they just look like bigger, hungover mice. Big whoop. I'm not worried about rats.
But then, I've never had to worry about rats. I've never lived in a raging metropolis like New York City, or in the trash-covered slums of Mumbai, two locations which receive quite a bit of attention (in relation to their ongoing rat problems) in Morgan Spurlock's new horror documentary, Rats.
That's what this is, by the way. A "horror documentary". I'm sure I've seen such a thing before (discussion question: would Cropsy count?), but I'm not sure I recall another film working so hard to sell itself on that concept. The big question I had walking into Rats, then, was: will I actually find this movie scary, particularly when I don't think rats are scary to begin with? My deck felt stacked against Spurlock from the very beginning.
Here's what I thought: Rats isn't scary - not to me, anyway - but it is crazy entertaining. It's got colorful characters (the NYC-based exterminator who pops up throughout the film, a cigar always clenched between his teeth, is the absolute highlight; this guy is hilarious), it's got a great score, it covers its subject matter from several interesting angles (there's the scientists studying rat corpses in New Orleans, but there's also a visit with an oddly-endearing pack of government-appointed rat hunters in Mumbai, and a bravura sequence where we see how rats in one country start out getting caught in a field, only to end up sizzling on dinner plates in the neighboring country by the end of the day), and it is...I guess the phrasing I'd use is "delightfully gruesome".
This was something else I was worried about beforehand, truth be told, but it was sort of a minor concern. I can handle blood and guts all day, but the killing of animals will never be something I can see without (at the very least) wincing. Rats' trailer seemed to promise a borderline rat apocalypse, and while I feel no affinity with the rat, I still don't wanna spend 90 minutes watching them get yanked apart and mutilated.
As it turns out, Rats has more than its fair share of grisly images, and there is quite a bit of animal death to be seen (some of it very graphic). But speaking as a dude who's probably more sensitive to that stuff than most, I had no problem with the level of violence on display in Rats. It was, in fact, precisely as gruesome and repellent as I'd hoped it would be. You will absolutely see images in this movie you will not soon forget (a large bloatfly being removed from a festering rat corpse - and the hole it left behind - is an image I'll probably never shake), so keep that in mind before signing up.
Don't let me oversell all that stuff, though. There are great stories being told in this film. Great stories being told by interesting people (some of them quite funny!), filled with facts and figures you may have never encountered. Admittedly, it might never help you to know that starving rats will feed on their own newborn babies or that the Indian government literally pays its neighborhood strike teams on a dead rat-by-dead rat basis, but I'll be damned if it wasn't a lot of fun to hear about.
And hey, if rats actually frighten you, you might even be scared by it. In the end, that sorta makes Rats a no-lose scenario for me. I really liked this one - it might be the best thing Morgan Spurlock's ever done - and wholeheartedly recommend it.
Here's that trailer again, for reference.