This is not a good movie. This is not a so-bad-it’s-good movie. This is an elegantly mediocre movie, if that makes any sense to you. The kind of cinematic oddity you’d expect to see at 3 in the morning on local access television… Except that here it is getting released all over North America by a big Hollywood studio! It stars Crispin Glover, whom you might remember as George McFly in Back to the Future or as the weirdo Thin man in Charlie’s Angels or probably not at all. Let’s just say that he doesn’t have that star quality. What he does have is an intense offbeat feel to him, which makes him perfect for… this.
Basically, this film is about a grown man talking to rats. He’s Willard Stiles, a perpetual outsider kept on a tight leash by his overbearing mother (Jackie Burroughs) and pushed around all day by his hard-ass boss (R. Lee Ermey), even though his business was started by Willard’s late father. Needless to say the man’s got issues, he’s utterly unable to bond with other people, let alone women, and so he turns to the rats that infest his dilapidated house. He grows particularly fond of one white mouse he names Socrates, and through that friendship he finds that he has the ability to have rodents obey his orders…
There’s potential there for a lowbrow but rowdy horror movie, with Willard and his rats causing all sorts of unholy mayhem, but this is not that movie. There are a couple of amusing scenes in which the rats tear stuff down and, predictably, Willard uses them to savagely get back at his boss, but for the most part this is a very low-key, uneventful and –I must say- dull picture. As mentioned, most of the running time is devoted to showing Willard talking to Socrates. They have a much affectionate relationship, maybe too affectionate (“You’ll always be with me. I hate everyone but you. Let’s go to bed.”). At least Ben seems to think so; he’s the huge badass rat who’s jealous of Socrates, and both the white mouse and Willard will have to deal with his vexed feelings.
“Willard” was written and directed by Glen Morgan, taking inspiration from the 1971 film of the same name (which I haven’t seen). He does a fine job at establishing and maintaining a feel of creepiness through the production design, the lighting and the ersatz-Elfman score by Shirley Walker. And then there’s Crispin Glover who almost manages to salvage the film, interestingly keeping Willard between sad and scary. Unfortunately, the film drags on and on hardly providing any laughs or thrills, and eventually we find Willard frustratingly passive and pathetic. The most amusing thing about “Willard” might be the idea that there’s a movie about a guy talking to rats playing in hundreds multiplexes across the country, but actually watching it is not so fun.