Cast & Crew info:
R. Lee Ermey
Richard Brener, Bill Carraro, Toby Emmerich, Glen Morgan,
James Wong; Directed and screenwritten by Glen Morgan;
based on the novel by Stephen Gilbert
Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, some sexual content
and language; Running Time - 105 Minutes
Domestic Release Dates:
March 14, 2003
by DAVID KEYES
twisted and mangled images that serve as the opening credits
to "Willard" are not just exemplary to a movie
of this nature, but also some of the most fierce and visually
striking ones to have been scrawled across the movie screen
in the recent years. Part-Tim Burton and part-Tarsem Singh
in their modern yet primitive delivery, they fittingly tease
the product's eccentric ideas without throwing away too
much information or robbing the audience of its impending
anticipation. Normally the movie itself would only emphasize
the greatness of its introductory scenes, but alas, so is
not the case with this rather bizarre result. There is a
great idea in the fabric here somewhere, no doubt, but it
gets lost, and it gets lost very fast.
place of a promising product is this, a foul, underhanded
and outright viscous little movie that has no payoff, no
spirit and no indication of authentic resolve whatsoever.
Viewers don't walk away from it knowing that they have been
handed a genuine payoff; they leave the theater feeling
frustrated, cheated and generally infuriated by most of
what has happened. It is an experience bankrupt of respectability
and balance, and to say that I myself wanted to hurl four-letter
obscenities at the screen following the godawful conclusion
is a drastic understatement.
movie is a remake of a 1971 film, about a reclusive man
whose kindness towards big and furry rodents was rewarded
when the little creatures became his friends, his companions,
and ultimately his followers. This movie doesn't act as
if it were an exact remake, though, but more like a follow-upthe
first film's original star, Bruce Davidson, is seen here
only in a portrait of the title character's deceased father,
hugging the wall above a fireplace mantle as if he's trying
to warn his heir of the deadly cycle that awaits him in
the rat-infested basement. How unfortunate that his father
wasn't alive long enough to warn the audience, either.
Stiles is played here by Crispin Glover, a popular character
actor who is probably most widely known for being Marty
McFly's father in the "Back to the Future" films.
Here, Glover's screen persona utilizes the standard "shy
guy" schtickthe character has no friends, doesn't
speak to anyone who doesn't first instigate communication,
and has a low voice that barely struggles to utter complete
sentences. His boss, the shallow and annoying Frank Martin
(R. Lee Ermey), knows that he isn't exactly the sharpest
knife in the drawer, either, but he can't fire him because,
well, he is obligated to keep an employee on the roster
who is closely related to the company's founder (in this
case, Willard's own father). Besides, Frank made a promise
to the family that as long as the reclusive guy's mother
(Jackie Burroughs) was alive, he would always have a job
with his dad's old company.
dear old mother isn't getting any younger, and Willard's
employment schedule is compromised because he has to take
care of her so much. Frank insists that she be checked into
a care facility in order for him to apply himself on the
job. Willard says he can't afford it, and that only infuriates
the boss, who chooses to be mean, spiteful and downright
nasty in order to get his points across. "This business
is a rat race," he spouts during one of his endless
one-on-one lectures, and though Mr. Stiles tries his hardest
to succeed in his father's honor, it's not always an easy
battle considering who's in charge and what outside obstacles
are interfering. Needless to say, he hasn't found a way
to let out his frustrations, either.
the rats, a small but growing infestation of which is growing
in Willard's basement. He at first doesn't pay heed to their
low-key existencethe movie shows him buying rat traps
at the local grocery store because his mom wants to get
rid of thembut when a cute white rodent gets caught
in one of them, guilt sets in and he willingly frees it.
Needless to say, the rat repays the man's kindness by sticking
around, and soon, we gather the little white creature, known
as "Socrates" by his owner, is spreading word
throughout the underground rat network that this is a man
they can all trust. Soon hundreds of rats become thousands,
and Willard isn't necessarily complaining about the increase,
but is actually quite honored.
deal of screen time is devoted to the rats themselves, but
the movie has them in a senseless choke-holdit neither
shows absolute love or hate for their existence. Willard,
of course, loves them dearly, but do they love him back?
Some do, we gather, but others seem to have hidden agendas.
Most seem to understand every speech and every command that
their owner delivers, too, and yet some don't exactly follow
what is expected of them. They have no clear purpose whatsoever,
other than to provide the screen with an offbeat system
of supporting characters (and though the movie tries to
pass off as horror, it never once feels that way). The allotted
villain of the infestation, a large rat nicknamed Big Ben,
takes up most of the screen time, but what is expected of
the audience in regards to accepting him? Should we be embrace
the fact that he carries so much character weight, or should
we feel insulted that the movie doesn't take a more sensible
approach with antagonism? In any movie that insists we should
accept little animals like these as significant plot participants,
something or someone is drastically out of touch with reality.
movie starts off promisingly, studying its lead character
in an effectively offbeat way, and when the friendship between
he and the rat Socrates begin to manifest, we find ourselves
actually admiring the movie's unconventional effort. It
really seems to want to go somewhere, until quickly and
shamelessly, the film's tolerable tone takes an unforgivable
dive. It doesn't just get sour, it becomes outwardly mean-spirited.
Rats begin to wreak havoc on the household like demolition
experts without regard to life or decency; they kill Willard's
mother, they destroy the kitchen looking for food, and they
even kill a cat who is given to him as a gift. Scenes like
these build and build until they have completely engulfed
the story, and after a time the movie is no longer about
payoff or entertainment, but about hatred, resentment, revenge,
and ultimately bloody showdowns.
picture can be malicious if it tries hard enough, but only
a select few are so mercilessly rotten that they physically
repel us in the process. "Willard" is one of those
films. It is a harsh lapse in taste and judgment, and I
offer every ounce of sympathy I have left to those unsuspecting
viewers who will be walking into the theater this weekend
expecting something silly or innocent enough to be worth
the admission price.
© 2003, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.