By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
The relationship between ratkind and mankind spans the history of both species, and the rise of the city entwined their fates irreparably.
Life just wouldn’t be the same without ya, buddy.
Rat Film sets out to tell the history of the rat in Baltimore and its contemporary affect on the city, but ends up delving into a whole lot more. Let’s just say there’s more than one kind of rat.
Director Theo Anthony deploys an impressively eclectic range of resources in the conception of his documentary film, not least his own considerable talents behind the camera and editing bay, Dan Deacon’s unnerving electronic score, and Maureen Jones’s resolutely monotone voiceover. But this is not just an aesthetically intriguing mix of elements, but also an almost randomly compiled list of fascinating interviewees, almost straight out of an young Errol Morris film, including rat fishermen, hunters, and more professional exterminators, a forensics instructor with the world’s creepiest dollhouses, and, hardest interrogated, the past itself through archival maps and photographs.
It’s that last bit that you begin to realize is the true thrust of Anthony’s film, as stories of experiments in rat population density which go to hell begin to reveal uncomfortable and unnecessary to elucidate parallels with project housing and other forms of social experimentation. What Rat Film eventually builds towards is no less than a devastatingly clear history of Baltimore segregation and racial and social politics and the world they have very consciously created. It’s a rat’s nest indeed.
All of this randomness does create a somewhat scattershot effect, and it can be hard to tease out a thesis at times (forensics dollhouse man is damn interesting, but very tenuously connected, if at all). Rat Film does build to a gutpunch of a climax though- nevermind some of the twists in the path getting there.
Rat Film may start out as an examination of rats’ coexistence with humankind, but becomes much more- a history of animals far more insidious to our well-being.
Rat Film (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every mention of rat poison
Take a Drink: whenever the history of rats crosses over with awful Baltimore racial history
Take a Drink: for rat owners
Take a Drink: for virtual reality & video game graphics
Take a Drink: for each horrifying experiment
Do a Shot: whenever things get a bit too real