From writer, photographer and filmmaker Theo Anthony, Rat Film is a documentary that hooks you in and deserves a pedestal. The feature-length film focuses on rats and their lives as a way to explore Baltimore’s urban history and how humans interact with their world.
It is clever yet confronting to see rats up close and personal, for Anthony to provide a world-view from their eyes and have them being compared to people, in an attempt to explore classism. Meanwhile humans are there to trap them or to love them, creating an unstable and claustrophobic atmosphere for the animals. It makes you stop and think, are rats really pests or are they just caught up in a people thing (as we see Baltimore’s residents being divided by class and race)? Harold Edmond, member of the rat control team Rat Rubout, says that it’s definitely a “people problem.”
Not only does Rat Film provides well-researched historical and scientific facts, it delivers them in an engaging narrative mixed with investigative journalism. Anthony doesn’t leave a single piece of information or potential source unturned.
Creating intimacy between the town and the viewer, the locals find themselves under the microscope or camera devoid of any touch-ups or staging. Not only are the wealthy interviewed in their luxurious and crystal-clean homes, but also those in the working class and ghetto, and self-declared rat exterminators such as Matt the Rat Czar.
Anthony lets these locals continue with their day-to-day lives and interactions with rats, simply observing in an effort to avoid a subjective representation. Just an deadpan account – one with straightforward and raw moments that leave you stunned every now and then amidst the poetic narrative.
The sequencing is unpredictable. You might get lost at first with the film alternating between the present, the past, footage that serve as analogies, and computerised simulations of a rat’s point of view. However, soon you will be pulled into a trance by the narrative, complete with a passive but somewhat sarcastic voiceover that reminds you of therapeutic tapes and a long ago experimental art form. Not to mention the constant reflection through surreal images and crescendo background music to invade and heighten your senses.
Raw yet aesthetically pleasing, the film carries a familiar feel as German Expressionist and Hitchcock works in terms of images of deeper meanings, music and mood that scream eternal despair and division. There’s commentary on how some of the locals are unemployed or their services are under-appreciated, but division remains due to a static system. The film shows Baltimore in its splendour and grittiness, alternating with a stylised, haunting representation of its inner self. It teases you with the familiar but draws back before you get comfortable to challenge your perspective.
Whether you’re a fan of both documentaries and rats or not, Rat Film is hard to miss.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Rat Film is screening at SXSW, where it was reviewed. To find out more about the film’s remaining screenings at the event, head HERE