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Harry Dean Stanton,
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.
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>
The film makers suggested making Willard a very rat-like human and requested the make-up artists make Crispin Glover unattractive and nervous looking by accenting the hard angles of his face, making him pale, dark around the eyes, and making his distinct nose stand out. See more »
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People who hated this movie went to see it with the preconceived notion that rats would be doing a lot bloodier leg work for Willard. What they got was a movie wherein Crispin Glover kisses his best rattie friend and slowly ambles toward insanity.
Willard has flaws, and plenty of them, but they rarely detract from what is, at heart, a psychological parable and subtle love story. Crispin Glover's performance is one of his most genuinely human and believable, evoking ugly emotions rarely seen in Hollywood, while still retaining a manic kind of dignity.
You can hardly fault New Line for marketing Willard as a horror flick, since that is what would inevitably sell better. But Willard is really more of a movie for people who genuinely like rats, not those who fear them. It's a movie for people who find greater horror in failure and abuse and solitude than buckets of blood and gore. Willard is the kind of movie that aims to make you uncomfortable, but not truly horrified. It uses few of the common elements of the horror movie, including graphic violence, deformity, fear of the unknown, and sudden, unexpected movement or loud noises to propel you from your seat. It is slow moving and subtle, and often uses crude humor to detract from the more creepy moments. It shows itself as a juvenile in those moments, a child who has put on his father's suit and is masquerading as a serious adult. It is much like the character of Willard, in that sense, and the coincidence is almost admirable.
The movie is unquestionably more subtle, evocative, and well-crafted than its predecessor; it is also more faithful to the original novel, Ratman's Notebooks, than the version starring Bruce Davison. It's a dubious honor, some might say.
Willard deserves no prizes, but it is well-made to be what it is... not a horror movie, nor a drama, nor a thriller. It's an intimate little movie about a boy and his rat, and it is all the better for it.
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