Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Morgan Spurlock & Jeremy Chilnick
(based on the book RATS by Robert Sullivan)
Starring: Ed Sheehan & Bobby Corrigan
In 2004, Morgan Spurlock turned stomachs with his fast food doc SUPER SIZE ME, which has since become mandatory viewing in Health classes across the nation. In 2016, he returns to do so again with RATS. His latest “horrormentary” takes a look at rat infestations across the globe. The science behind rats is examined, various exterminators are interviewed, plenty of disgusting images make their way onto the screen, and nothing seems to cohesively flow together. The main problem in Spurlock’s latest documentary is that there isn’t a clear narrative, other than we’re watching gross scenes of rats.
This documentary’s ambition is admirable, but Spurlock seems like he’s trying to accomplish too much in a short running time. Extra minutes, scene transitions and even voiceover narration/detailed title cards would have greatly aided this film as a whole. As it stands, RATS is worth watching if only for shock value…if you’re into that sort of thing. The New York and New Orleans segments are sure to have you checking for any rodents before you go to sleep, although their absence won’t provide much comfort because a colorful New York exterminator explains that a rat only needs a tiny space to enter your home.
This NYC exterminator frequently returns throughout the film and it’s easy to see why. He’s an interesting, almost comical individual who delivers sick information. From bloody homemade experiments with rats to theories about how rats will eventually take over the world, this cigar-smoking exterminator was seemingly born to star in this documentary. If this man’s detailed descriptions don’t freak you out, a graphic rat dissection that reveals the various parasites hiding within the rodents (including a live bot fly) is sure to supply nightmare fuel. Spurlock doesn’t shy away from grisly, disgusting and stomach-churning images. In fact, he revels in them. With scenes of rats being cooked into meals and many on-screen rat kills, pet rat owners aren’t likely to get much enjoyment out of this film…but those who find themselves fascinated by disgusting and scary things are sure to be hooked in spite of the messy structure.
Trips to India (where we see professional rat slayers at work) and London (where we watch adorable terriers kill rats) show that this doc clearly had time, money and effort put into it. This makes the film’s half-finished nature seem even more underwhelming. Spurlock tries to make this into a horror film first and documentary second, which is an interesting approach…but doesn’t work when he’s actually trying to deliver jump scares (only one of which actually works and the rest are cheap fake-outs). Despite the film’s slick visuals and grisly sequences, it never comes close to reaching its full potential. Spurlock is trying to show extermination of rats, evolution of rats, parasites in rats, rats as cuisine, rats being worshipped, and more in the space of 80 minutes and there’s no time to fully explore any of these things.
Though it’s worth watching once out of sheer morbid curiosity and for the fascinating grotesqueries, RATS should have been better. There are pieces here for a terrifying, fascinating documentary that never fully comes to fruition. It seems like Spurlock filmed all of these cool things, but didn’t really know how to string them together in a way that naturally flowed (despite their obvious connections to the titular rodent). RATS is a documentary that I’m happy I’ve seen once, but I likely won’t watch again it any time soon. That’s not because the disgusting visuals and nasty sequences (these do pack serious nightmare fuel for those who dislike/fear rats in the first place), but rather because of the shock doc’s disjointed nature that keeps it from becoming truly engaging.