Morgan Spurlock’s look at the titular rodents around the globe debuted at Toronto last month. It has also screened at Camden and Fantastic Fest.
Wisely eschewing his signature on-camera presence here for a change, Spurlock remains behind the scenes as he takes viewers through an often disturbing survey of rat infestations that has been conceived of as a horror film in documentary form. Full of shock cuts, skin-crawling sound design, and more scenes of extermination than anyone would likely ever want to witness again, the doc unapologetically presents rats as a pestilence that needs to be wiped out, save for one segment, late in the film, which visits a Hindu temple dedicated to the rodents, its 35,000 rat residents lovingly viewed as reincarnated loved ones. Leaving aside the images of pilgrims praying to the scurrying critters, the remainder of the film details how invasive, ubiquitous, disease-ridden, and resistant to death rats are – this is not for animal lovers or the faint at heart. Spurlock’s main thread consists of an interview with Ed Sheehan, a veteran exterminator who looks like he’s straight out of central casting, smoking a cigar in a dark cellar and sharing his hard-fought wisdom about his longtime nemeses. Woven around his disturbing revelations are segments detailing efforts to combat or study the vermin, from a New Orleans research team documenting the disgusting parasites carried in their bodies and a Vietnam eatery that specializes in rat cuisine to a British rat terrier hunting party and a Mumbai night patrol that tries to keep infestation manageable by killing the rodents with their bare hands. While broad in its shock tactics, the film has undeniable, visceral impact as it successfully taps into the viewer’s primal repulsion to the nocturnal creatures.