The humble, but voracious and potentially disease carrying Adult Norway Rat has been public pest number one in Baltimore Maryland since the 1940s, but as evidenced in filmmaker Theo Anthony’s bluntly titled Rat Film, the city’s pest control struggles aren’t a mere metaphor for the often crime plagued urban jungle. The rats are there expressly as a result of experiments on the benefits of rat poison in low income areas that couldn’t legally be segregated by race and class from the rest of the city. There is no metaphor. The rats are there because someone put them there. The only metaphor to be found here is how rats more obviously learn from mistakes better than their human counterparts.
Anthony adopts an interesting and entrancing tone throughout Rat Film that enhances the socially and historically important messages. Adopting fast paced edits that feel akin to a DJ hitting switches to jump to a new track at just the right time, Anthony arrives at a sweet spot between the menacing, educational, philosophical, and righteous. Narrated with great foreboding by Maureen Jones and taking a look at the city’s history, urban hunters, pet owners who treat rats as equals, and even looking at old school crime scene investigation techniques, there’s a lot to love about Rat Film.
The tone takes a moment to get used to, but once the viewers has become acclimated, it’s impossible to resist and easy to learn from. It will also leave viewers very angry that something like what’s happening in Baltimore could happen in the first place.