After seeing the trailer for Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Rats,” I was expecting so much more. I guess not so much more, so much as a point. Rats are gross! Rats are icky! Rats are intelligent! Rats are in the city! And…? So, what is the statement or hypothesis for “Rats”? The message behind the documentary Spurlock films is so jumbled and confused that it comes off so manipulative and sensationalized. One moment we’re watching Indian man smashing the heads of rats with sticks, and the film ends on an Indian sanctuary for rats where locals worship the little animals. What is Spurlock even trying to convey to the audience? Spurlock films lot of money shots of rats crawling through pipes, and swishing around sewers, and jumping out of garbage bags, all set to ominous music. Subjects interviewed in the film, meanwhile, throw around buzzwords to make us feel grossed out or threatened.
“Rats are evolving.” Cue dramatic music. “They’re intelligent animals.” Cue dramatic music. “If humans didn’t exist, tomorrow… the rats would take over.” Eegad! There definitely is a place in the documentary genre for a film about rats. I would love to know where they dwell, and how they respond to certain stimuli, as well as what we can do to prevent a rat infestation. There’s also never the explanation that rats have an unquenchable thirst for blood, and can chew through most materials with their teeth. By the time I hit the second hour of “Rats” I was very surprised Spurlock didn’t hit those gross out chords to garner extra cringes and groans from the audience. Director Spurlock reaches for just about every other gross scene you can imagine, from rats being dissected, scientists pulling live parasites from rat carcasses, and there are even glimpses of victims of Leptospirosis.
If you’re looking for some mental scarring, “Rats” has what you’re looking for, and Morgan Spurlock becomes so obsessed with the violence and gore, that he never makes much of a statement if at all. If you’ve ever lived in the city and stood on a subway platform for more than twenty minutes, you can see rats roaming back and forth, so is it supposed to be surprising to know rats live in the city and eat our trash? When there’s not a lot of graphic animal cruelty, Spurlock comically splits his subjects from heroes to villains. The rats are depicted as vile, vicious, and cruel little beasts, while a very skilled exterminator with a thick New York accent is interviewed in a dimly lit room while he lights up a cigar, and recalls his experiences with rats. It looks like such a cheap neo-noir and a goofy attempt to depict this subject as less scientific and biological and more as a battle between good and evil. We, humans, are the good guys.
As I said, with the proper treatment there is room for a great documentary about rats that could warn us, educate us, and explore an issue that’s often dismissed and ignored by the government in lower class and urban areas. Yes, we should worry about rats, and be wary around them, but why? What can we do about it? How can we raise awareness? Instead Morgan Spurlock turns his subject in to a sensationalistic gore fest that works very hard to give the audience dry heaves.