Morgan Spurlock definitely knows how to make a documentary, but Rats is the first one to be labeled as a “horrormentary.” Based on the book Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan, the documentary is a joint project between Spurlock and the Discovery Channel. This program isn’t about tame rats that people enjoy keeping as family pets, but rather reveals to viewers the hidden, sometimes very frightening world of the elusive, disease-carrying vermin that lurk unseen all around the world.
According to Broadway World, Rats features interviews with scientists, city officials, and average citizens who attempt to shed more light on these unsettling creatures. The way Rats was filmed is what makes it more like a horror film than a documentary. Spurlock invites viewers to take a chilling tour with him as he uncovers the deep and dark corners that rats call home. Cameras went places where humans rarely, if ever, frequent in order to catch the busy and industrious rats in action.
These wily and clever creatures are viewed from their nests and other areas from New York City’s parks, subway tunnels, and sewer system, to the English countryside where packs of terriers search out and destroy rats on a daily basis, to restaurants in Vietnam where rats are part of the menu, and more. The film also travels to a city in India, where the streets are patrolled by a group of men known as the Night Rat Killers.
Spurlock visits with Dr. Robert Corrigan from NYC’s Rat Academy, and with Rick Simeone, Director of Pest Control Services for NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to hear how the city is dealing with the rat population. Rats also follows 70-year-old, Brooklyn-based veteran exterminator Ed Sheehan, who offers firsthand accounts of the city’s serious rat problem, which stretches from the dark and dank sewers, all the way up to the best restaurants and hotels.
“I spent 48 years trying to exterminate them. You don’t know what you’re up against. They’re just too well organized and too damn smart,” Sheehan says in the film. “I’m not a scientist, but if humans went extinct, the rats would take over.”
The Futon Critic shared that in a New Orleans, Louisiana lab, Rats highlights the very real issue of diseases being spread by these animals. Identifying what they may be carrying is an important factor in eradicating the threat of diseases before they are spread by the rats or get out of control.
“It’s really important to know where rats are and the exposure risks that we’re facing,” explains Dr. Michael Blum, an associate professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
The Rat Project team dissect and study wild rats to determine what parasites they are carrying, which includes tape worms and botflies, and diseases such as Rickettsia and Bartonella. Through their research, Blum has discovered that an infectious bacteria called Leptospira is widespread throughout the city.
“We’re finding prevalence rates in rats that are up to 20 to 25 percent throughout the city. 20 to 25 percent is epidemic proportion. It’s something that is a strong public health concern.”
In England, rats destroy grain stocks and fertile farm lands, and farmers have turned to using Plummer terriers to catch the vermin that are wreaking havoc. Rodenticide used to be effective against the rodent infestation, but now the rats are showing that there is widespread genetic resistance. The dogs have proven to be a very effective deterrent and are now widely used from the fields to the cities in order to handle the burgeoning rat population.
Surprisingly, while a group of approximately 31 men search the crowded streets of Mumbai, India every night for rats, just 600 miles north is the Karni Mata Temple, which is also known as “Temple of Rats.” This Hindu temple houses over 35,000 rodents and Rajasthan legend states that deceased loved ones are reincarnated as rats, so hundreds of people come to the temple every day to be with what they believe are their family members.
“These rats are the reincarnation of man,” a temple visitor explains. “This is a grandfather, a mother, everyone who has died…it’s never disease, never plague, because this is my family.”
Rats are viewed quite differently in Vietnam, where they are captured and purchased in bulk so that they can be cooked and eaten as part of a meal. The rats are often caught in the rice fields in rural Cambodia and then are sold to restaurants and homes throughout Ho Chi Minh City. People make a fairly decent living by catching, selling, and transporting the rats, and many find them to be a delicious part of their diet.
“I make my money on rats,” Mr. Ret, a famous rat dealer in Vietnam explains. “I wish there were more.”
For the vast majority of communities that are working to eliminate the rat problem, they must look at the way food waste and other trash is handled. This is a breeding ground for the rats, and the more trash that is generated and disposed of improperly or haphazardly, means there will continue to be an increase in the rat population.
Morgan Spurlock is an award-winning and Academy Award-nominated director, writer, and producer. He is also the founder of a full service, New York-based production studio called Warrior Poets. His first film, Super Size Me, premiered at the Sundance Festival in 2004 and won Best Directing honors. He has directed and produced several successful film, television, and digital projects, including the popular series Morgan Spurlock Inside Man, as well as 7 Deadly Sins, and 30 Days. His films include Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, Confessions of A Superhero, Freadkonomics, and the Emmy® and WGA nominated The Simpsons 20th Annivesary Special: In 3-D and On Ice!
Rats is produced by Warrior Poets, in association with Dakota Films Ltd., and Submarine Entertainment for the Discovery Channel. David Koh, Josh Braun, Dan Braun, and Stanley Buchthal are the executive producers. John Hoffman is the executive producer, and Alexandra Moss and Ryan Harrington are supervising producers for the Discovery Channel. Rats is produced by Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, and Suzanne Hillinger. The film is directed by Morgan Spurlock, and Rats is written by Jeremy Chilnick and Morgan Spurlock.
Will you be watching Rats? Leave your comments, thoughts, and opinions below. Rats premieres on Saturday, October 22 at 9 p.m. ET on the Discovery Channel and again on October 30 at 9 p.m. ET on Animal Planet.
[Featured Image by Morgan Spurlock/Facebook]