Documentary Films: Morgan Spurlock's Rats (2016) - Reviewed

A documentary masquerading as a horror film, Morgan Spurlock's latest effort is a revolting examination of the evolutionary and cultural significance of the one world's most resilient creatures.  Featuring a string of rodent related vignettes from around the globe, spliced with a devious mixture of genre elements, Rats is a putrescent expose with frightening implications. 

Each of the film's segments are book ended by an anecdote from Ed Sheehan, a veteran New York exterminator whose cigar choked voice narrates the film with Bubonic premonitions and grim insinuations as to the species' underestimated abilities.  Spurlock's decision to present the film in a quasi-anthology format is the first of many horror tropes that he endlessly exploits throughout the film's 87 minute duration.  From the swollen gutters of the Big Apple to the plague ridden streets of Mumbai, everything is displayed with the intent to repulse and frighten.  Sheehan's grizzled hunter archetype is offset by white jacketed scientists whose genuine interest in the rats' uncanny survival capabilities are twisted to appear as if the scholars are B movie prognosticators, vainly toying with natural forces they can't possibly control. 

Luca del Puppo's cinematography is a faithful homage to its predecessors and a slick parody of its contemporaries.  There are some remarkable micro scenes featuring horrifying close ups of the beasts in their subterranean kingdoms, writhing and reproducing in the shadows, instantly evoking comparisons to The Hellstrom Chronicle and Phase IV. Pierre Takal's machine gun editing supports the visuals by adding hideous sound effects and periodic mammalian intrusions that keeps the gag alive throughout.  Takal also scored the film, composing a rhythmic synth blender that pulsates and contorts into a different melody each time the location changes, signifying that the danger is the same no matter the level of exterminating proficiency that is available. 

Super size me, bitch!

One of the most interesting, and perhaps controversial elements of the film is how it treats its subjects.  The rats endure several narrative definitions, beginning as an insidious swarm freeloading off the waste of a metropolis, perhaps signifying that humanity is complicit in the propagation of the horde.  As the locations switch to new countries, the rodents are treated to various forms of reverence and brutality, contrasting religious identity, public health, and even culinary value.   

Available now for digital rental, Rats is being touted as one of 2016's best horror films.  Ultimately, this is a movie that will effect each viewer in a different manner, depending upon their enjoyment of the concept, their ability to handle candidly disgusting sequences, and their personal tolerance for the prolific pests that haunt Spurlock's shockumentary at every turn.  A filthy odyssey that presents the plight of a casual menace in a spoiled package, Rats is an intriguing departure from the conventional documentary. 

Share it, rat. 


-Kyle Jonathan