The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Rat Film

Rat Film, as the title suggests, is a documentary about rats. That may push the button on some people's squirm factor, but unlike last year's Morgan Spurlock non-fiction feature Rats, it doesn't play up the creepiness of the titular creatures. Instead, this is a sociological study of Baltimore's history as told through its rat population.

Director Theo Anthony brings an experimental approach to the film. Rather than using a completely linear narrative, he weaves a number of elements together, cutting back and forth between them, and putting as much emphasis on mood as on storytelling. The through-line, to the extent that there is one, is a description of Baltimore's rat problem. A soothing, almost robotic female voice narrates these sections, which detail the scientific efforts to exterminate the vermin. That gradually morphs into an explanation of how housing in the city became segregated and what that meant for the most economically-disadvantaged citizens.

Interspersed with this are some interesting, clearly connected introductions to city residents, who reveal their relationships to the rats. One couple snuggles up with them on their living room couch. A weapons enthusiast uses a blow gun to kill them when they penetrate his yard. A member of Baltimore's rat control department offers his philosophies on his trade. Other elements don't necessarily seem connected at all. There's abundant footage of a computerized simulation of Baltimore's streets, as well as a stop at the Maryland Medical Examiners office, where we see the training facility used to teach crime-solving.

The inclusion of those latter two things is rather perplexing, as they seem somewhat irrelevant and serve to slow the documentary down. Everything else, however, is enlightening. Rat Film, in showing how segregation placed people of color into the worst, most run-down sections of the city where they were essentially forced to live among the rats, is a provocative, important examination of oppression. Meeting the rat lovers and hunters gives the movie a nice balance, providing a few doses of humor, as well as a practical glimpse into the various manners in which people interact with the pesky creatures.

Anthony's artsy style proves mostly hypnotic. He deserves credit for taking chances and approaching his subject in an unpredictable way. Rat Film works as a meditation on the durability of rodents, but also of Baltimore's citizens, who continue to find ways to cope with their furry neighbors.

( out of four)

Rat Film is unrated, but contains adult language and themes. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.

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