Donít expect a horror movie out of Glen Morganís, ďWillard,Ē unless of course you have a fear of rats. A remake of Gilbert Ralstonís 1971 screenplay, ďWillardĒ tells the story of a man who has no friends and lives in isolation. Maybe those in the audience who can relate to being an outcast may connect with the main character, but most people will probably leave the theater having not made that connection.
Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) is a man with little to celebrate. At thirty-something, he still lives at home with his widowed mother and works at a processing company founded by his father but is being run by a Mr. Martin (R. Lee Ermey). Willard isnít on good terms with Mr. Martin because he has been showing up late for work everyday for the past week. Mr. Martinís patience is wearing thin and he tells Willard the only reason why he hasnít been fired yet is because as long as his mother is still alive, he is obligated to keep Willard on the payroll.
Willardís excuse for being late all the time is that his mother is sick. This we know is true and we are reminded of that fact every time we see the unsightly mother (Jackie Burroughs). The ghostly appearance of Mrs. Stiles is the scariest part of the movie. Second place goes to her hair-raising voice that would put anyone over the edge.
When his mother shouts that there are rats in the basement, Willard is sent to rid them. But we soon find out how smart these rats really are. After many failed attempts using every technique and poison available to end the infestation, Willard learns that he has the ability to control the long-tailed creatures with short and simple commands. This makes Willard feel good, as the rats are his only friends.
The one that stands out is Socrates, the single white rat. He quickly becomes the favorite and is the leader of the other rats. After he obeys a command, the rest of the rats follow. Socrates gets special privileges that include being able to leave the basement, and he even gets to sleep in Willardís bed. The others donít seem to mind, all except Ben, an enormous rodent close to the size of a small dog. He becomes jealous of Socrates and that alone starts an entirely different conflict then the one weíre focused on, which is Willardís rejection from society. At the same time, Ben feels rejection from Willard.
ďWillardĒ is an awkward movie to say the least. The dialogue is built on foreshadowing and events to come that you donít find in other films. Only in this movie, can the phrase, ďI wonít allow myself to be overtaken by those rats,Ē have two different meanings. The character who shouts that line; Mr. Martin, uses rats as a metaphor for all of the useless employees who bring the company down.
The film wants us to be sympathetic towards Willard, but how much sympathy he should get is a good question. He is a sad individual, but he often gets what he deserves. Can you blame his boss for being so uptight after heís shown up late to work everyday for the past week? Should people openly approach him when he walks around with his back hunched, silently grinning to himself with his teeth clinched? The only thing missing is Dr. Evilís pinkie kiss from ďAustin Powers.Ē His physical looks arenít that bad. Maybe if he got out more often heíd make a few friends.
There is one character who somewhat respects Willard. His co-employee, Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring), feels sorry for Willard, but her character is too underdeveloped for us to fully understand why. We donít know if she has any family or even a boyfriend or husband. Does she have stronger feelings for Willard? If so, why? She goes out of her way many times just to check up on Willard to make sure heís OK. She quits her job at the office--but again, we donít know where she goes from there.
Where the movie lacks in suspense, it picks up in shock. Cat lovers wonít appreciate a lengthy scene where a feline eventually meets his demise while trying to evade the rat army after just being thrown into the house. The cat is a gift to Willard from Cathryn, and if you read the previous paragraph you wonít expect me to go into that one any further. She decides that he needs a cat in his life, even after he kindly turns down the animal. Do people really just show up at friendsí homes to give them cats?
On the acting front, Crispin Glover is phenomenal while the rest of the cast is made-for-TV, at best. Glover is so good that he almost seems out of place. Thereís a good reason why he throws so many fits and tantrums as anyone would go insane living in a world with cardboard cut-out characters like in the world Willard lives in. Gloverís performance is one of the few things that shine in this film.
The other impressive aspect is the special effects. It is nearly impossible to distinguish the difference between the real rodents and the computer generated ones. The camera isnít afraid to get close to Socrates, Ben and gang. Sometimes itís just a quick sweep as a blanket of rats scurry across the floor obeying their commands, but we also see them do specific tasks like puncturing car tires, walking on narrow surfaces, lifting up floorboard, and picking up food.
ďWillardĒ isnít a very thrilling movie, but those not expecting a fright flick may enjoy Willard and his relationship with the rats, and only that because the other characters are either underdeveloped or unconvincing. And, nothing else really happens in the movie. Thereís a resolution at the end that doesnít quite make sense; it is rushed, but I have a feeling director Glen Morgan didnít want the film to linger any longer than the two-hour mark. His decision was a wise one.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Is this movie too intense for younger audiences? Only premium members know. Also, get details on the many inconsistencies that were found throughout the movie. Some are so ridiculous that you may find yourself walking out of theater, including one point not mentioned by any other critic. What was in the trailer but failed to make the final cut? It may be the reason for all the negative reviews. Get all of this and more extended analysis on Willardís character in the premium section of Aggressive-Voice Movie Reviews. Join today at no cost. The premium review has 750+ more words than this version.