Spurlock’s genre-bending horror documentary about the titular vermin is as wildly entertaining as it is unsettling, but be warned; it is not for the faint of heart.
‘Rats,’ inspired by Robert Sullivan’s New York Times bestseller, takes you from New York to New Orleans, from Cambodia to Vietnam, and from England to India to show you how different people interact with rat infestations. Every segment of the documentary is punctuated by Ed Sheehan, Spurlock’s Captain Quint of exterminators, who delivers his intermittent monologue of ominous warnings in a thick Brooklyn accent. Sheehan, filmed smoking a cigar in what appears to be a dingy warehouse basement, has a natural charisma and a knack for story telling. He is the heart of the film, and Spurlock could not have possibly found anyone better suited for the role. Not so mysteriously absent from the film is a “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit, as rats constantly die by the bucket load, one time literally by the bucket load. Think a live action adaptation of ‘Ratatouille,” if instead of cooking French food, all of the rats were violently murdered.
Spurlock’s love of horror movies clearly comes through in the documentary. While swarms of rats are creepy enough, the ‘80s style synth score, intensified sounds of rats scurrying about, and clever editing all add up to make the film play, in many ways, like a classic horror flick. The most unsettling aspect of the film is its unmitigated graphicness. Some of the scenes have been burned in my brain, where they will remain for all eternity. For example, one such segment contains a group of researchers dissecting rats, and pulling banded worm-like parasites, still wriggling and writing, right out of their lungs. By the end of the film, an imaginary colony of tiny creatures had taken root under my skin and proceeded to make my flesh crawl for the entire night.
Horror, however, is only one of the aspects that make ‘Rats’ so entertaining. The film is often quite funny, and the well-balanced humor provides a pleasant contrast to graphic imagery. A lot of the doc’s humor is derived from the horror tropes it employs. One of my favorite scenes contains this over-the-top, low-angle shot of a heavily mustachioed man from Mumbai wringing out a rat like a washcloth, while his nearby friends quip, “He likes killing rats.” Maybe I have a weird sense of humor.
Additionally—you might never think it—but seeing how different cultures interact with rat populations is thoroughly intriguing. In England for instance, some farmers use packs of terriers to catch the rats plaguing their land. Witnessing twenty-some odd snow-white terriers go from bounding down a hill like an adorable avalanche to ferociously ripping apart dozens of rodents was a personal highlight for me. Equally as interesting, but on a less violent note, the film’s final segment centers around an ancient Hindu temple in Rajasthan, inhabited by thousands upon thousands of rats. The worshipers there believe that the rats are reincarnated humans, and they routinely eat and pray with the rodents.
While I would love to recommend this film to everyone, I know that some people simply don’t have the stomach for it. Their loss.
Photo courtesy of Youtube
‘Rats’ will infest the Discovery Channel on October 22nd.