“Willard” (2003) Movie Review

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Well, my self imposed hiatus from horror didn’t last long… Last weeks movie, Rubin and Ed, put me in the mood to (finally) check out the Glover staring 2003 remake of Willard.

I made the controversial (to me, anyway) choice of watching this before the 1971 original; I usually don’t do this, but figured that as my main motivation for watching was Glover’s  performance,  why ruin the story for myself by ‘forcing down’ the older movie first?

Willard,  is an awkward man in his late 30’s who still lives with his overbearing mother.  He works at the company his father founded, where he is relentlessly bullied by his boss, his father’s former business partner.

When Willard is tasked with ridding his mother’s basement of rats, he finds that he had an affinity for the creatures; first befriending a white rat, which he rescues from a trap (and names “Socrates”), and soon finding himself capable of commanding an ever-growing army of them.

Willard uses his newfound power to seek at first petty, and later deadly, revenge.

Unfortunately for him, he soon finds himself locked in a power struggle with an enormous rat he names “Ben” (as in ‘Big Ben’); after making Ben second in command (after Socrates), Ben becomes jealous of the special relationship that Willard has with the albino.

Glover, of course, is wonderful, ‘quirky loaner’ being what he does best. Another fine performance comes from R. Lee Ermey, who plays Willard’s boss, Mr. Martin at just the right side of the ‘cartoon character’ line.

Kudos also to the editor, who uses our habit of projecting the emotions we expect to see, to give the impression that the giant African rat playing Ben puts in a stellar performance.

The films biggest strengths though, lie in the use of the camera; at first, while Willard is the victim, the camera tends to finds itself nestled on shelves, or peeking at the action around or through things (watching in 2013, it’s easy to imagine the movie was filmed in 3D, there’s so much foreground clutter). Once Willard befriends the rats, we get more close ups, and the longer shots are free from the foreground distractions. Finally, when things start to go wrong for Willard as Ben gains control, there are a lot of shots from higher elevations, and the camera tends to start shots from a distance, and pan in. I expect the details of the distinction between filming styles will go unnoticed by most of the viewing public, as well they should, but they will never the less give an overall feeling of at first nervousness, which is overcome, before being replaced by a more oppressive feel.

Between the acting, direction, editing and cinematography, this was always going to be worth watching, but in less skilled hands it could have been terrible; the story certainly could have done with another pass to remove some inconsistencies, and to either resolve or remove a few sub-plots.

Overall though, it’s an interesting and enjoyable movie, which will appeal to horror fans who appreciate the quieter ‘old black house’ style of movie.

Willard! There are rats in the basement.

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