Rat Film Screen 91 of 25 reviews

Rat Film

2016

Rat Film Poster
  • Equal parts disturbing and humorous, informative and bizarre, “Rat Film”is a brilliantly imaginative and formally experimental essay on how Baltimore has dealt with its rat problem and manipulated its black population... The aesthetic audacity alone is intriguing; combined with Maureen Jones’s icily robotic narration and Dan Deacon’s eerie electronic score, the effect is somewhere between confounding and mesmerizing.

  • By the time you watch a snake slowly ingest a rat whole, late in the movie, your sense of disgust toward the rats has morphed into something like sympathy. That’s thanks to Anthony, who weaves our public perceptions of rats into a story about our analogous perceptions of the poor, largely black communities of Baltimore... The histories of race, class, and geography are inescapably imbricated. In laying this all out, Rat Film becomes as dense as the problems it studies.

  • The loose ends are entertaining and thought-provoking (as one tries to tie them all together), but Anthony’s agile and associative editing is what really gives Rat Film its buoyancy. The fast-paced tonal shifts deftly draw parallels between sometimes disparate content (psychological research and infrastructural policy; extermination and pet ownership), building continuously changing relationships between topics.

  • Anthony’s evocation of the city through maps, old and new, leads him to other modes of visualization, including physical models and video games, and those representations turn visionary, transforming a concluding sequence of civic pride and good cheer into a brilliant fantasy of radical political utopia. It’s one of the most memorable inspirations in the recent cinema.

  • Very little at Doc/Fest (that we managed to catch) messed with tried and tested documentary formats and modes of storytelling. All except the brilliant Rat Film by Theo Anthony, that is, a film that is at once familiar in its admonishment of American political rot and wholly radical in the way it expresses its barely concealed sense of outrage.

  • Anchoring its multifaceted look at rats and humans with the recurring thread of a ratcatcher making his rounds, Rat Film has a fragmented eclecticism and dry appreciation of absurdity that recall the later essay films of Chris Marker and echo the roving swing of VICE videos. Anthony draws on a vocabulary absent from many documentaries dealing with race relations, from 3D animation and visuals inspired by the Berlin-based artist Hito Steyerl to the experimental music of Dan Deacon.

  • It adds up to a compelling case study of a city that believes it can modify an environment without modifying the moorings of all of the individuals who live by means of that environment. This alone is a fine conceit, but what really gives Rat Film its charge is its interest in mapping, and in the ways that maps intervene on the world by representing them.

  • A quiver-inducing, imaginative—cosmic, even—essay about the war on rats in Baltimore and the city's concomitant history of racial segregation. A devastating illustration of redlining uses today's maps to show how urban ills are concentrated in neighborhoods (largely black) that a 1937 map coded to be avoided for loans.

  • The metaphor may seem obvious, but Anthony's blend of well-researched scientific and historical background with deep existential questioning recalls Werner Herzog's best work, presenting a fresh take on a centuries-old subject with poetry and urgency.

  • As we’re lulled into a minor fugue state by Maureen Jones’s icy voiceover performance and Dan Deacon’s freaky, fractious score, we meet rats housed in model cities, rats stalked by amateur rodent hunters wielding fishing lines and baseball bats, and rats born only to be frozen and fed to snakes. It’s a shrewd focal point for an examination of social division.

  • On the basis of this most impressive debut, Anthony readily accepts and acknowledges cinema’s inherent duality, deigning not to depict “reality,” but to represent truth as he’s found it. If Rat Film is a maze, then it’s one that offers rewards at every turn.

  • This grimly humorous slice of urban life eventually leads to a dizzying array of associative links... Like a rat caught in a maze, the viewer must extricate him or herself from the salutary vertigo wrought by Anthony’s stratagems and reach some tentative conclusions.

  • The weight of civic resources—against crime, poverty, unemployment, and financial instability—all come down on the same Baltimore neighborhoods in the form of social experiments, scientific studies, city initiatives, and, yes, pest control. And Rat Film makes all of this comprehensible through a complex integration of interviews, observational photography, archival elements, and even a dash of apocalyptic sci-fi, accentuated by a sinister electronic score by Dan Deacon.

  • In what could otherwise have been a Herzog-approved study of marginalia played for eccentricity, Rat Film refuses the lure of a quick fix (peanut butter wrapped in turkey slices, as it were) and digs into the dark recesses of the city’s history of institutionalized urban segregation. Shedding light on a collective rat hunt, the film incidentally illuminates something entirely more pestilent: the abhorrent treatment of unwanted populations.

  • An ethnographic and sociological nonfiction horror film, Theo Anthony’s Rat Film is a free-form experience with topical relevance... A visual dissertation with anthropomorphic tinges, Rat Film incorporates a narration that paints a timeless account of unjust history.

  • It takes a certain kind of nerve for a director to entitle his debut feature-length work Rat Film, but there's much more to Theo Anthony's richly informative essay on the planet's most-maligned critters than its bluntly confrontational moniker. Indeed, the picture is as much a keenly observed anthropological study of the city of Baltimore — where Anthony resides — as it is about the four-legged friends/fiends who infest this historic port.

  • The film manages to say something real and immediate in a fresh and inventive voice... It’s a bold gamble that sometimes feels a touch obvious, but mostly achieves a sharp clarity of vision.

  • Certainly one of last year's most interesting documentaries, Rat Film admirably bites off a bit more than it can gnaw. It is part of a subgenre that I like to call "radial documentaries." There is a dominant hub concept from which various tangents emerge, like spokes in a wheel... The trick is to maintain some sort of connection to the hub, and while I absolutely laud the clear ambition and political drive of Rat Film, there is a certain point at which it becomes to capacious for its own good

  • "Rat Film" is an odd and captivating experience, and its fluid style is its most distinguishing characteristic. Moving through multiple moods and atmospheres, accompanied by an atonal and skittery score by Dan Deacon, "Rat Film" stays in the "micro" level (the history of the rodent population of one particular area), but its meditative atmosphere encourages "macro" thinking (as does Edmund, the exterminator).

  • Perhaps ironically, some of Rat Film’s best parts involve more traditional documentary approaches. Anthony follows several individuals who spend their time hunting for rats... These guys are presumably helping handle the city’s rat problem, but they also seem to take an unusual amount of glee in killing. What exactly does it all mean? I’m not sure, but it does make for a disturbing and occasionally absorbing watch.

  • This decision lies in stark contrast to Theo Anthony’s excellent debut feature Rat Film, which examines structural inequality in the city of Baltimore through the lens of its rodent problem. However, as a pest control expert surmises early in the film, “It ain’t never been a rat problem; it’s a people problem.” Another film about social engineering and urban development, on this occasion it’s far more insidious than the grand ideals of Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer.

  • The metaphor gets a little snarled, the utopian-apocalyptic conclusion worked for me not at all, and a digression into Frances Lee’s crime dioramas seem like an instance of the director—also acting as his own cinematographer and editor—being unable to kill his darlings, but for at least several sustained passages the fleetness of the cross-connections made was enough to convince me that I was dealing with an exciting young filmmaker with a deft, limber mind and a style to match.

  • It’s beguilingly digressive, favoring loose, associative editing patterns over a clear narrative or thematic arc. Throughout, the flow is punctuated by abstract, dreamlike interludes, accompanied by voiceover that’s at once ironic and apropos (“Does a blind rat dream?”).

  • The smartest idea up Anthony’s sleeve is that extrapolating from real world horrors allows them to resonate all the louder, an idea that finds expression in the solar systems that burst forth when too much information is processed or in the realization of where exactly the voiceover is narrating from. Maybe the most frightening of documentaries is a documentary in the future tense.

  • These truly anarchic films [WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Sans Soleil] chart the interconnected lines of colonialism, consumerism, and sexuality across Europe, Africa, and Japan, and unfortunately stand in marked contrast to Rat Film‘s forced and altogether exploitative assemblage. Inherent to director Theo Anthony’s misappropriation of the essay form is a conflicting account of precisely which history his documentary seeks to investigate.

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