What Is It? is a bewildering, unnerving, surreal, blackly comic film from the visionary mind of Crispin Glover that tells the inner and outer struggles of a young man facing villains and demons on multiple planes.
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This is the story of Willard Stiles who is a social misfit taking care of his ill and fragile but verbally abusive mother Henrietta in a musty old mansion that is also home to a colony of rats. Willard then finds himself constantly humiliated in front of his co-workers and is eventually fired by his cruel and uncaring boss, Mr. Frank Martin, a vicious man whose professional interest in Willard extends to a personal financial one. Written by
Anthony Pereyra <email@example.com>
There have been reports that the enormous rat Ben was not portrayed by a rat, which is not quite true. Ben was played by a giant Gambian Pouched Rat (cricetomys gambianus), a distant relative of the Norway rat (rattus norvegicus), the species in the film. Gambian pouched rats, while fairly docile, can grow to body lengths of as much as 10-17 inches from head to base of tail, with a tail about the same length again or longer, and generally weigh anywhere from two to over six pounds. See more »
When Willard feeds the rats in the basement, the container of nuts is next to a Coke bottle. When he leaves the basement, there is no bottle and the lid from the nuts container is in a different place. See more »
One of the least successful movies of the year, when it should have been one of the most, is Willard, the remake of the Bruce Davison version. It has everything going for it, and it was really the dismal marketing campaign that brought it to its early demise. If more people had given it a chance, then hopefully it would have been more successful and more people would have been able to see this masterwork. That's what Willard is, it's a masterpiece, at least of the movies of the last ten years or so. No movies have been up to par in so many different levels.
Crispin Glover puts in the best acting performance of the year, and possibly one of the best of all time is the title character. He has a dead-end job at his late father's business, now run by his father's partner, Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey), who just keeps him on until Willard's mother (Jackie Burroughs) dies. When his mother makes him go look for rats, Willard finds one, keeps it, and names it Socrates. He discovers more, and they do whatever Socrates tells him. However, a huge rat named Ben wants control, and fights with Socrates for power, while Willard uses the rats for his own sociopathic will.
As I said earlier, Willard has everything going for it. I'll go one at a time. The directing, by X-Files alum Glen Morgan (also written by him and co-produced with James Wong) was perfect. He has an obvious style (and probably studied Hitchcock in college), and creates a sense of realism in this implausible movie. Also, Morgan's screenplay has some of the best humor to come out of a movie this year, especially from Ermey and Burroughs. I won't spoil them, although they're still funny on repeat viewings.
The acting, especially by Glover, who isn't a forerunner in big Hollywood names, is spectacular. Glover portrayed a young, aimless man so well. No one can scream like this man can. He's not afraid to let go and let his emotions run him over. He must have some deep repressed memories. Ermey is outstanding, but, then again, when is he not? He just plays an evil character, and that's what he's great at. Laura Elena Harring (Mulholland Drive) does what she can with her very small role. I noticed she tried to repress an accent, but I couldn't tell from where. Sounded Spanish, but I digress. Burroughs is great, although more of her (not really looking at her, though she's hideous) would have been great.
Morgan takes what could have been disastrous and turned it around to become a truly creepy film. Willard shows the side of every person who wants to do something evil, but can't find the will to do it. That's where Willard succeeds, you end up rooting for someone you normally wouldn't because he's doing something that you desperately want to do.
Willard is a modern masterpiece, one that will thankfully find a huge audience on DVD.
My rating: 8/10
Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, some sexual content and language.
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