Known for documentaries with unusual takes on a variety of subject matter like fast food (Supersize Me), men’s grooming and manscaping (Mansome), and advertising (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), Morgan Spurlock has just unleashed his latest endeavor at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF): the horror documentary Rats. The Academy Award-nominated director and producer, along with co-producer Jeremy Chilnick, premiered his latest film on September 13 as a “Midnight Madness” screening. According to Real Screen, during the 40 years that the festival has gone on, only seven documentaries have premiered there and Rats is the only one to be scheduled at such a time slot because no one thinks of documentaries as horror flicks, but that has apparently changed.
“Getting it into midnight madness validates it as a horror movie We wanted it to transcend what would be typical of a doc and just that seal of approval that Colin [Geddes] gave us was the beginning, because out of this we go to Fantastic Fest, Beyond Fest, Telluride Horror Fest.”
— Documentary News (@document_news) September 18, 2016
Described as a genre-bending film, the horror documentary is a joint project between Spurlock and Discovery Channel and is actually based on Robert Sullivan’s book, Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.
Rats promises to tell you everything you didn’t want to know about the vermin and more. Sheehan himself “stars” in the film narrating scenes and telling his own tales of frightening encounters with rats. The camera crew went everywhere humans don’t to catch the critters in action including their nests and various places in New York like parks, subways, sewers, and street garbage. The film also spends some time on the streets of Mumbai with a troupe known at the “Night Rat Killers,” a literal rat race in London where terriers hunt down the rodents, and a science lab in New Orleans that “reveals all the scary, cringe-worthy and legitimately dangerous things that lurk within rats themselves.” Creepy stuff.
It wasn’t hard to convince Discovery Channel to serve as the majority funder of Rats. “Morgan has such a following with younger audiences and younger people. Every television network wants to attract a younger audience,” says John Hoffman, the EVP for documentaries and specials for Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and Science Channel.
The unsettling subject matter is enough to freak out some viewers, but what makes this documentary a horror film is the way that it was shot. Spurlock has said that he has been inspired by films like Scanners, Jaws, 28 Days, and World War Z.
“If it was something else other than rats I don’t know if we would have done it, but because rats resonated with us so much we jumped at it. [The film] was inspired by the book, but we did have a lot of creative license to tell the kind of story we wanted to tell. It’s going to make you uncomfortable. It might give you the heebie-jeebies, but, hopefully, at the end of the day, like a horror movie, it will be really entertaining.”
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“It always seems that documentary gets lumped in one category and for us particularly, as filmmakers, I think we’re populists and we always strive to make our film as equal as a choice as any other movie you’re going to watch,” says Chilnick.
Rats will screen again at the TIFF tonight at 8:00 p.m. and will then be shown at various Landmark Theatres at midnight on September 23 and 24 before being shown on Discovery Channel on October 22.
[Featured Image by AP Images]