Willard (VHS, 2003, Spanish Subtitled)

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I See Rat People. Crispin Glover Is 'Willard'

Oct 23, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Glover. Morgan. The rats are actually quite well done.

Cons:It's about the rat revolution.

The Bottom Line: 'Willard' is potentially worth your time despite even the fact that it is not worth your time.


If you happened to be of a sufficient age the year I was born (1971), you might have noticed a strange movie doing surprisingly well at the box office. That ‘Willard’ featured Bruce Davison in the title role, and got to put ‘Ernest Borgnine’ on its posters. On the other hand, if you were born the year I was born (which, curiously enough, I was myself), the only connection you had to ‘Willard’ was that some goofy kid sang a song about a rat named Ben. And, if you paid attention during the period that ‘Back to the Future’ and sequels were quite popular, you know that if you’re going to make a movie about a complete nutjob, Crispin Glover is your man.

‘Willard’ is the story of a man (and only if you use that term as a biological descriptive) living (and only if you here refer to a biological function) in the shadow of his mother. We’re led to understand that he was once living in the shadow of his father as well, but his father has passed. His mother is also a controlling, half-corpse of a cripple. It’s very ‘Psycho’. Willard also works for the company his father founded, which has long since been taken over by Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey). Mr. Martin apparently took over the business in some ‘hostile’ fashion or other, and he is of the school of management that believes that a worker works best when belittled, demoralized, made to feel stupid, and under fluorescent lighting in rooms painted battleship grey.

Our story begins with Willard’s mother complaining of rats in the basement. He sets forth in his typical ‘confused by life’ manner aiming to resolve one more mundane task that crops up on his road to nowhere. When he finally catches a rat, however, he can’t bring himself to kill it, and soon adopts the cute and fluffy ‘Socrates’ as a pet. It turns out that Socrates seems able to understand him, and Socrates leads the other rats in doing Willard’s bidding. A giant rat, Ben, turns up before long, and Ben has other ideas about who ought to be in charge.

As life at the office gets progressively worse for Willard, he of course internalizing his frustrations in his..., well, mousy way, he and his rats become bolder. But, even as Willard succumbs to the idea of using his rats, somewhere within him lurks a man who realizes that this is, after all, a pretty silly film. Though Willard is certainly the perfect candidate for ‘rat guy’, he’s still sane enough to not want to be the ‘rat guy’. Thus, plans form for revenge and double-cross, and possibly even double-double-cross. But, is Willard the only one making plans?

You could say that this film is superior to the original in virtually every conceivable way, but that would not exactly equate with singing its praises. The original, frankly, was hardly anything worth shouting about in the first place, though it did have its spot in the animals gone bad craze. No, you need to say a bit more than simply that this film is better than the original. It’s just damn good. At the same time, you can’t go too far with any sort of analysis before you have to admit that no matter what it may do right (or even brilliantly), it’s also damn silly.

You have to give a lot of credit to director Glen Morgan, and mainly for knowing how to pick his game. Morgan has been around a while, mainly writing and producing television (‘X-Files’, ‘Millenium’, and oddly enough '21 Jump Street’), but this is his directorial debut. It was certainly a good choice for his debut, and it is the sort of first effort that makes one nervous about his next outing. He definitely works here, but my impression is that he was smart in knowing where to place himself. Still, that’s just a hunch on my part, and he shows a thorough understanding of directing, so maybe he will mesh with other projects just as well as he did here. His past and future aside, whatever else one may say about ‘Willard’, it is directed well. The film is slow and methodical, and the camera manages a surprisingly effective dance of angles and frames that we wouldn’t really expect from such a film. Here is a director that knows just when an ultra-close shot of Willard is going to have added meaning, and when an overhead shot is going to make him seem that much smaller. He knows that Willard is framed off-center practically by definition, and knows how to put together a composition not only of left, right, and center, but foreground and background as well. He also knows how to get the film to move, and slow it down, so that the audience can be involved with the movie enough for it to try and be about something other than rats. Whether that particular aspect actually works or not is open to debate, but we at least see that we know how to make the attempt.

Whatever we may say positive about Morgan, we have to say more about Crispin Glover. The only possible problem with the performance is that whatever Crispin Glover may do, he’s still bound to be just a bit too Crispin Glovery for my taste. Other than that, this is really a remarkable effort. Glover has always been one for the small facial expressions, and of course inner turmoil and bottled frustration are practically his middle names. Still, you can’t help but give him credit for this one. He’s amazing, and this is one time when our fear that what he’s doing is not entirely acting doesn’t detract from the film at all.

But in the end, this movie presents a certain challenge. There’s no real question about its being a good movie. It has too much going for it. Solid, even significantly interesting direction. An excellent effort by the star who must completely carry virtually every scene (leave aside the real and CGI vermin). It even establishes mood and, dare I say, ambience to an appreciable extent. But at the end of the day, about the best I can manage to say is that it’s the very best silly movie anyone will probably ever make, and now I’m back to saying it surpasses the original, or in other words saying something that isn’t really saying much, however great it may sound.

It’s definitely worth watching, especially if you’re interested in seeing good acting and good direction. It’s even rather fun to watch in its own right. It’s far more psychological than it is horror (though it’s billed as horror, I don’t recall a single thing that was remotely ‘scary’), and in that regard it has the ability to start a conversation or two. But, is it good? I think we have here our prime example to point to when similar questions on theory arise, because this movie cannot really be made into something good. The proof is right here in that this is as ‘good’ as this movie could possibly be made. It can be made interesting, entertaining, and even ‘worthy of being viewed’, but it can’t be made good. Enough good parts to a movie, however, will apparently add up to 3.5 stars.


Recommend this product? Yes

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