Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. "Rat Film" is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat—as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them--to explore the history of Baltimore.
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★★★★½ review by iana on Letterboxd
Rat Film redefines what a documentary can do. What I thought would be a simple observation of Baltimore’s widespread rat problem evolves into a larger, striking narrative about race. It’s a tragic tale of how a city unwittingly planned itself into segregation, poverty and disrepair. The interweaving throughlines of Baltimore’s history dealing with rats, the consequences this has imposed on its citizens and video game footage among others are both somehow incongruous and seamless. This is so close to perfect that I can’t believe this is a feature-length debut.
★★★★ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd
Looking over reviews of this at least on here suggests that I have a stronger admiration for the project that most, and as I discuss with director Theo Anthony on the podcast, I think that's because I find the style of the film not easily boxed in. Reviews seem to suggest that one subplot is too many, or Anthony does better with his humans than his history (or visa versa). I find the variety of it all to be what is provocative, like a control-f for one thing leading down another to another to another and the accumulation of data and systems utterly inapproachable to actually solving issues (this is the answer to the 538 era). I find this genuinely compelling and surprisingly emotional in how it tackles its various subjects, and I think this is the start of a career that won't reflect most of the boxes we expect for non-fiction—even in the T/F cinephile world.
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
shhh... Dan Deacon is'a speakinnn'
★★★½ review by Lawrence Garcia on Letterboxd
MUBI interview with the director, Theo Anthony. (Introduction excerpted below. Apologies for the copious parentheticals—and yes, I realize that this is also a parenthetical. Really need to tone that down.) It's possible that I'm overselling this slightly, especially since part of my excitement has to do with how closely my views on documentary filmmaking align with Anthony's, which comes through in the film, and is confirmed in the interview. But it's just such a pleasure to be consistently surprised by such an inventive and playful vision (nicely illustrated by the diverse range of images in that above-linked piece), particularly one that I had close to zero expectations for. An excellent debut, by any standard; seek it out if/when you can.
"Since its premiere at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, Theo Anthony's Rat Film (not to be confused with Morgan Spurlock’s Rats)—ostensibly a documentary on Baltimore’s rat problem—seems to have burrowed under the radar, not surfacing till its recent showing at the 35th Vancouver International Film Festival. Though its subject may seem like strange material for an excellent documentary, let alone a striking debut, the film shatters those expectations within seconds of its opening—voiceover about the origins of the universe (“Before the world became the world, it was an egg…”) accompanied by shots of a racetrack; a (common) Norway rat trying to jump out of a trash can, then a smash cut to the title—and over the course of its 82 minutes, Rat Film becomes one of the most inventive and consistently surprising features of the year."
(Also addressed the film in a larger VIFF dispatch for In Review Online.)
★★★★½ review by Jacob Knight on Letterboxd
Vermin as a jumping off point for a historical examination of the social strife that's plagued Baltimore, MD throughout its history. Evokes Adam Curtis through its tangential exploration of power structures while the subjects (which include both a modern exterminator and a trainer for forensic crime scene analysts) are given Herzogian questions like "do the rats go to heaven?" A work of avant garde genius, complete with a Dan Deacon score.
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