Willard Stiles is a social outcast. At work, his boss hates him, and his co-workers act indifferent towards him. At home, his ailing mother often ridicules him and still treats him like a child. As anyone can imagine, living in such an environment day in and day out, no wonder Willard has quite a bit of pent up aggression brewing inside of him. Faced with a rat infestation problem in his house, Willard opts to befriend an albino rat he caught and keeps him as a pet instead. Soon thereafter, he begins training a whole army of rodents in his basement to do his bidding.
A remake of the 1971 horror movie with the same name, Willard pays homage to the original by having Bruce Davison, who played the lead role over thirty years ago, as Willard's deceased father. The cinematography and the production designs were some of the best parts of the film. I especially liked the contrast between the old and earthy color of the Stiles house with the modern and monochromatic blue of the office. Both settings gave out a sense of dread and an atmosphere of uneasiness. Furthermore, director Morgan's usage of the imagery of Willard as a caged animal was a nice touch, him being trapped inside an elevator, his own home and eventually in a mental institution. Since it was never explained how Willard was able to form a bond with the rats, it was hard to accept how this pack of wild rodents would be trainable and obey him just because he fed them on a daily basis. It was interesting though to see the rats Socrates and Ben taking on humanlike attributes, with the former representing a gentler side of Willard while the latter a darker and destructive part of him.
The character of Willard is a schizophrenic mess. His social ineptness is compounded with his inability to deal with a wide range of emotions he feels. He can go from being sad to outright angry and then end up as his timid self again in a matter of minutes. What makes Willard so dangerous and, ironically, intriguing is his unpredictable nature. With that said, I believe Crispin Glover did a good job as the complicated Willard. Physically he looks perfect for the role. He was able to pull off the creepiness and the loneliness of Willard effortlessly. Some of his best scenes included the numerous monologues he delivered while speaking to the rats, and sequences in which he doesn't speak at all.
The supporting cast, on the other hand, was somewhat of a disappointment. R. Lee Ermey succeeded in giving the audiences enough reasons to hate the despicable Frank Martin, Willard's boss at Stiles Manufacturing, but his depiction was more often than not both over the top and exaggerated. Laura Elena Harring's Cathryn was the only character that tried to reach out to Willard, however, her affection and sympathy towards him seemed out of place and puzzling especially in the cynical surroundings Willard found himself in. Jackie Burroughs played Willard's mother Henrietta. Plagued with an unspecified disease, in a way she represented his last ties to all that was good in him, since it was only after her death until he made the decision to take a life.
Willard is a bizarre and twisted movie. There were funny moments and scenes that would make you jump out of your seat, but those were few and far between. The rest of the film seemed to stretch on endlessly, made watchable only by Glover's expressive portrayal of the protagonist. I have to admit that I felt a strange fascination in Willard's plight, which led to my desire to know how the alliance between him and the rats would end. As a whole, Willard is a potpourri of forced dialogues, incoherent plot and inconsistent performances. This movie certainly isn't for everyone, and therefore, I can only recommend it to fans of Glover and of critter horror films. Rodent haters need not bother to apply.
What do you think? Talk about it on the Forums