Sunday, 14 June 2009

No. 156 : Willard (2003)

For a special treat, seeing as you’ve been good, the ‘W’ Movie Reviews will feature the same title for two days running. Aren’t you glad you weren’t bad now? I’d seen ‘Willard’ around the time of it’s release in 2003 but had no idea it was a remake. But it is following from the original which came out in 1971, a bit like myself. The two reviews will show the differences between the two films and declare the winner in the all comers Willard championship.

This film (and possibly the other I haven’t watched it yet) concerns the lonely Willard Stiles who lives alone with his elderly mother following the death of his father (in a nice touch all the pictures of the dead Dad show the actor Bruce Davison who played Willard in the original). He works for his father’s former business partner Mr Martin (played by the great R Lee Emery - the drill sergeant out of ‘Full Metal Jacket’) and doesn’t get along well with his boss who’d have him out if it weren’t for an agreement with his dead dad.

One night Willard’s mother hears scurrying in the basement and dispatches her boy to buy traps. The rats are too smart for the traps but the following night one gets stuck on a glue patch. As he’s about to kill it Willard feels an attachment to the rat and names it ‘Socrates’. Word gets around the rat community and pretty soon Willard’s basement is knee deep in rodents, including the massive Ben. The rats are more obedient than you’d expect and soon Willard has them trained to do his bidding. An early attack on his bosses car gives him a new will to live but that’s short-lived when his mother dies and he starts getting hassle from Ben who challenges his authority.

Added to his woes is the loss of his job and after contemplating suicide he decides he’s be better off paying his boss a visit with a few thousands of his pals. With the boss suitably chewed Willard panics and tries to kill off his former friends but the rats are legion and won’t go quietly. Willard has a small chance at a normal life with his one female friend from the office but it may be that he’s already gone too far down the road of madness.

I really like this film, with it’s creepy overtones and malevolent rats. Crispin Glover (George McFly in ‘Back To the Future’) give a cracking performance in the lead role and I doubt anyone else could have pulled it off as well. A lot of his screen time is spent talking to rats and he does it so well that you start to buy into the different personalities that he confers upon the rodents. His interaction with people is like his wimpy McFly role and it’s only towards the end that he really lets rip.

The boss played by R lee Emery is a great character although his demise was poorly timed - let the man look at his smutty web sites in peace. The rats themselves do wonders with them seeming really friendly and appealing one miniute and the next they’re a peeling the skin off someone’s face!

The general mood of the film is dark and gothic and if it weren’t for the absence of an annoying Danny Elfman score you’d swear it was a Tim Burton film. That said it’s hard to see how you can do a film about a loner who trains killer rats to be anything other than dark.

There are plenty of light moments however and there is enough to keep your interest throughout. I wasn’t really convinced by Willard’s change of heart that saw him gassing a lot of his pals but I guess if you buy an unhinged character you’ve got to go with it.

All in all this is a real gem of a movie that the original will have to do well to match. It does have Ernest Borgnine as the boss so that’s a good start. See you next time for more ratty fun.

Best Bit : Boss reaches For Mouse
‘W’ : Rating 20/23

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