TIFF Journal: ‘Rats’


Movie Rating:


Morgan Spurlock has made quite a few notable stunt documentaries over his career, but none have come close to capturing attention or imagination quite like ‘Super Size Me’. However, his latest confection, ‘Rats’, is easily the best movie he’s made since shoving his face full of Big Macs, and it’s somehow even more nauseating to watch.

The film is a study of rats and all the dirty, filthy, and even surprisingly clever things they do. There’s not much more to the movie than hearing how disgusting rats can be and then watching it happen, but there’s something so skin-crawling about the material and unsettling about the imagery that makes it oddly compelling. You won’t like yourself for watching it, but you also won’t be able to turn away.

Things start off fairly dull, showing how many thousands of rats can be found in New York City when you bother to look. The movie picks up a bit upon the introduction of Ed Sheehan, a 40-year veteran of the pest control game who sucks back on a cigar and waxes philosophical about how damn intelligent and resilient rats are, to the point that he clearly respects the little bastards. Then Spurlock dives deeper and grosser, showing scientists in New Orleans cutting open rats to demonstrate the sheer volume of disease and parasites they contain, as well as describing all the lethal and vomit-inducing effects they have on humans. After that, it’s time to journey around the world to see such disturbing sights as crews of men in India fingering through garbage and killing rats with their bare hands for cash, and areas of world where rats are considered a delicious delicacy.

Spurlock describes ‘Rats’ as a documentary horror movie. He shoots with the visual language and heavy shadows of the horror genre and also has no problem showing all sorts of on-screen rat dismemberment. (This is probably the only animal that no one will object to seeing chopped up on camera, and he takes advantage of that.) However, these things have been done in docs before, and the subject matter here is so one-note that the movie can’t help but get a little repetitive and dull.

On the other hand, the film will make you nauseous and feel like you need to scratch your skin right off. I suppose that’s some form of success.

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