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TIFF 2016: ‘Rats’ May Be The New Litmus Test For Horror Movie Endurance

Who’s Behind It

Directed by Morgan Spurlock, the cheerful documentary auteur behind Super Size Me and Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. Written by Spurlock and Robert Sullivan, based on the book by Sullivan.

Who’s In It

Pest-control guru Ed Sheehan, other assorted rat experts, and way too many rats.

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Who’ll Love It

Horror fans who take pride in their high tolerance for shocking, unsettling, and generally unpleasant filmmaking. Thick-skinned viewers curious to learn more about the very real threat rats still pose to humans.

What’s It About

Spreading plagues that killed millions, rats have a history of wreaking havoc on human populations, but most of us mistakenly believe this pest is now under control. However, this assaultive documentary from Morgan Spurlock suggests that the problem is far worse than we realize, and it’s getting worse all the time. World-weary pest-control expert Ed Sheehan argues that New York plays host to more rats than humans and he takes to the streets to expose the shocking density of this infestation. However, things get really ugly when Spurlock takes us to scientific research facilities (where wildly diseased specimens from nearby communities are dissected) and countries (India, Vietnam) that interact with the species in a brutally hands-on fashion. Further complicating matters, evidence suggests that rats are rapidly adapting to all manner of human threat, including poison. As the film’s many shocking episodes play out, Sheehan expresses respect for the resilience of rats and fear for the their human foes, who are rapidly running out of options.

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Why You Should See It

Words cannot do justice to the harrowing, squirm-inducing experience that is Rats. Subjecting viewers to a relentless onslaught of shocking imagery, music, and information, Spurlock—who is neither seen nor heard—will have you begging for a break, only to pummel you with more grotesque shocks. As Sheehan explains early in the film, humans are hard-wired to feel repulsion when we see rats, as they pose a very real threat to our species. With that reaction in mind, Spurlock playfully ups the ante throughout. By the time you see lab technicians remove a giant squirming creature from a dead rat corpse or a Vietnamese woman drown a bucket of rats and chop them into bits (while some are still alive), you may feel tempted to rush for the exit—and that’s where the fun kicks in. While Rats is full of illuminating and unsettling information, its primary appeal is as an endurance test for horror fans. If you watch it with your friends, there’s a good chance you’ll see them squirm like they’ve never squirmed before. Documentaries don’t normally have a visceral effect on audiences, but Rats is an eye-popping exception.

When You Can See It

Sunday, September 18 at 4pm (Scotiabank 4). Tickets available here. Release date to be determined, although the poster says October.

Check out the trailer below.

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