Director: Glen Morgan
R. Lee Ermey/Martin
Laura Elena Harring
Pasty white-faced weirdo loner with “psychotic” potential (Glover) hooks up with some rats in his basement and eventually uses them as a tool of vengeance against he who busts his balls, while his world crumbles around him. Where’s Sylvester the cat when you need him?
Having not seen the 1971 original film of the same name; I didn’t know what to expect from Glen Morgan’s (writer of the "X-Files" / "Final Destination") directorial debut with this remake. I knew that it was a horror movie involving rats, but that was about it. Well, when the end credits rolled, I found myself dumbfounded…I was wrong; this wasn’t really a horror movie in the first place. "Willard" is more akin to a depressing psychological drama involving a lonely and angry young man and the rats he eventually befriends. The film felt like an old school Tim Burton offering with a dash of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” tossed in there for good measure. That’s a GOOD thing!
Symbolism and metaphors were spread thick on this surreal slice of life and I’m always a sucker for that potent candy. The decrepit, frozen-in-time house successfully echoed the crumbling trap in which Willard was caught while the many rats who appeared out of nowhere acted as physical manifestations of Willard’s pent up anger and frustration. There’s also the whole white rat (named Socrates) played as Willard’s more tender side and the big ass evil rat (named Ben) acting as his aggressive side angle, but I’ll leave that up to you to explore via your grey matter. Needless to say, they are many ways to read this picture: scratch the surface mofos and you’ll find strong statements on anger, loss, self loathing and loneliness.
Psychological layers aside, Willard is also “marginal” actor Crispin Glover’s jaw-dropping one man show. He owns the screen here and the camera knows it, milking his every facial expression for all that they're worth. Believe me when I say this; they’re worth a lot of “cha-ching”! The flick was low on dialogue, but Glover’s internal monologues were always delivered full force through his many intense wide eye moments. I’m imagining that Glover went “method” for this role or something (maybe he DID sleep with rats) because the gamut of emotion he put out here felt mucho genuine and had a strong impact on me. His performance was perfect, unique and in my opinion, the film’s greatest asset. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the lad! He was born to play this role!
I also have to highly commend this film for the way in which it handled Willard’s exchanges with the two key rats. This could’ve been a BIG problem in terms of having the picture be “tacky” if mishandled, but here it actually resulted as the two more accomplished relationships in the movie. Willard’s sweet demeanor in regards to Socrates the white rat was quite touching while the tension between him and big bad Ben was gripping in a somewhat scary way. It almost felt like a love triangle going on and I couldn’t believe that they actually pulled off the captivating chemistry between Glover and the rodents onscreen. I bought it, signed, sealed delivered...thank you very much!
Being that I’m an angry “tuque boy” with a constant grudge, I, of course, also really grooved on the revenge angle of the film, although I did wish there was more of it in the house. You just can’t go wrong with watching the always entertaining R. Lee Ermey (Martin) doing his “a-hole” thang versus kooky Glover. Every scene these two men shared was pure gold. And to top that off, I went “coo-coo” for the money shots (that scene when Willard gets out of the elevator with rats tumbling all over him was priceless), adored the cleverly executed “cat vs rats” chase jamboree (to the song "Ben" no less) and was wooed by the telling costume and production designs that complemented the film's morbid themes to a T.
I do have some cheese to nibble with this one though. From a horror fan point of view, more revenge goodies would’ve been nice. The set up was perfect for that kind of edgy “fun times", but the film never fully capitalized on it and seemed too busy exploring the lead character’s mindset. I also didn’t care enough for the mother/son relationship which was too ambiguous for me or the subplot involving a cute temp played by the lovely Laura Harring. Although Harring is always pleasant to the eye and I dug her character’s empathetic nature, more of her would’ve been needed to make the subplot worthwhile. As is, her character didn’t bring much, if anything, to the overall narrative. I also found some of the rat CGI shots to be a tad “fake at times. To be fair, the rats were very credible 98% of the time.
In the end, I was very pleased with "Willard" and I can see it being a “repeat viewing” type of picture where the more I’ll see it, the more I’ll pick up on new things and consequently appreciate it more. Now on whom should I unleash my rats? Mmmm…I know who! MOOUAAAAA! You be fubarred beeyatch!
We get light blood here and there and some rats gnawing at flesh. Not much going on in this department. I will say that the mother’s toenails were freaking disgusting though!
Crispin Glover (Willard) is the movie. This role was tailor-made for him and he ran with it as far as he could. He’s an absolute hoot to watch! R. Lee Ermey (Martin) is always "fun times" in my book and even though he’s more restrained here than usual, he got the job done with his own special brand of charm. Laura Elena Harring looked way hot, played her role perfectly, but her character needed more meat.
T & A
We get naked rat tails…”purrrr”!
This bleak atmosphere-laced flick benefited from Morgan’s firm eye behind the camera. He knew how to capitalize on the awesome set designs while at the same time not letting the film’s style or surreal vibe drown out the film’s content. The directing served the story and that made the more “snazzy” visual moments stand out. Good job on your first run Morgan! Our little boy is all grown’s up!
We get an appropriate score by Shirley Walker that matches the images; left field and somber. And Crispin Glover’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Ben” was the money!
"Willard" is not a mainstream or a fast-paced balls-to-the-wall horror uppercut; it’s a quirky, yet quite sad, character study that uses rats as an allegory for one man’s repressed and eventually unleashed anger. I can see how some people would dislike this “left field” rodent, but for me, it struck a chord and the overall quality in which everything was presented made it a fulfilling watch, especially looking back at it. So if offbeat and dark movies are not your game, I don't suggest you hop on this court to play ball. But if you want to meet a real messed up fellow, go have some drinks with the “Rat King”; he’ll keep ya knocking back those Tequila shooters all night long.
The remake of Michael Jackson’s song "Ben" by in the film is covered by Crispin Glover.
Both “Willard” films were based the novel “Ratman's Notebooks” by Stephen Gilbert.
The original 1971 Willard was a followed in 1972 by a sequel called “Ben” which featured the song "Ben", by Michael Jackson.
The picture of Willard’s father in this remake is none other than Bruce Davison, the original Willard in the 1971 version.
Glen Morgan admitted to watching “Psycho” and “the Birds” prior to shooting this baby.
Long time Morgan partner James Wong, co-produced the picture.