Written and Directed by: Glen Morgan
Starring: Crispin Glover, Laura Elena Harring and R. Lee Ermey
Reviewed by: Josh G.
It is remake night again! This time around, 1971's Willard is on the chopping block, ready to pounce with improved special effects and surely, intense violence. Itís a rats-gone-wild horror film with some of the most unlikely sympathetic characters you'll ever meet. Following the plot of the original, 2003's Willard stars the excellent Crispin Glover (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Back to the Future) as a lonely employee; the star of the show. Also appearing is the familiar face of R. Lee Ermey (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) playing a cruel Frank Martin. Sadly, good movies need more than genre favorites to be the best they can possibly hope for. Does this modern update have what it takes to be a gut-quenching classic?
Willard Stiles (Glover) is a young man living with his widowed mother Henrietta (Jackie Burroughs). Their big house is what Willard calls home, but itís a major burden on him. With sick Henrietta, holes in the walls, and supposed rats (according to his mother), itís not easy to keep himself amused. Life is a drag beyond the house doors as well. Willardís terrible job is turning into a living hell with the help of his boss, Frank Martin (Ermey). Willardís deceased father left his jobís company to Frank, and he promised Willard a job as long as his mother was still alive. Hanging on by a thread, his employment is tossed around like a rag doll and given no time of day. But shy, pale Willard keeps his sanity under control.
Catching a white rat with a trap in his basement, Willard feels remorse for the critter and cleans him up. The two form a bond, and the rat is named Socrates. Henriettaís paranoia is starting to grow larger, and she begins to lose trust in her sonís peculiar actions. Returning Socrates to the basement, Willard starts to notice that his new white friend understands him, and the enormous amount of many other rats appear to listen to Socrates. By feeding and taking care of the rat pack, Willard gains the trust of the rodents and continuously organizes army-like exercises with them. Socrates, however, stays the favorite, which crosses one particular mouse; a giant-sized squeaker coined the name ĎBig Bení, who doesnít seem to want to listen to what Willard has to say.
After his boss replaces Stilesí desk with a new female employee, Willard and his trained basement dwellers sneak off at night to Frankís house. Will sends his minions to Martinís garage where they chew down his tires to a popped wreckage. The next day at work, all of his co-workers are laughing themselves silly over the story, and for once, Willard gives a true authentic smile. His laughter soon fades when Willardís nutty mother is found dead on the basement stairs. Frankís boss eventually gives up, and sends Stiles on his way out the business door. Co-worker Cathryn (Laura Elena Harring) tries to help Willard cope, but his mind is on pure revenge. Will the rats become puppets in a game of torture and annihilation?
Messy at times, but overall brilliant, Crispinís kooky version of Willard is acentric and delightful, almost childlike and forgivable. Another acting nod goes toward Jackie Burroughs, whose portrayal as the senile and ill Henrietta Stiles is not only believable, but so well prepared that you get carried away with her presence. Rarely making any noticeable mistakes, Willard is a respectable chiller that keeps things simple and easy to follow. It falls under the cheesy section at times when the score is dropped in with tense vibes. Big Ben, the villainous fat rat of the feature is not very scary to look at directly into the eyes, but the music thinks differently when loud threatening sounds are made as Willard and Ben exchange glances. Characterization is one of the most important parts of Willard, not only in the humans, but in the two specific rats. You learn to truly despise Ben and Socrates becomes the pure lamb that nobody wants to see get hurt. These two rats really are just people in rodent bodies, and of course, without scripted lines.
No nudity and a minimal amount of blood show up in this PG-13 thriller, which makes viewing with people of sweeter tastes less awkward. The big Stiles house is atmospheric and elegant without leaving a place of comfort. You can relate to it as your home even if itís a bit on the historic side. Ermeyís character of Frank Martin is unlikable, however, the tale should have added more to his dark side before his final scene. The thing about Willard is that you can foretell what is going to happen in the movie, but you just donít know how itís going to happen. The people who die are not difficult to predict. The script is excellent and the situations that are presented are reasonably reacted to by the actors and their dialogue. I love Crispin Gloverís freak-outs. Willard cannot accept that fact that he is being fired or that he may have to sell his house in order to pay inherited bills. He goes completely nuts, becomes sweaty, and pulls off an Oscar-worthy insane character blowout.
There are many well done computer generated rats in Willard that can pass as the real things. I personally donít find rats disturbing, but a crawling pack of anything is enough to send shivers down anyoneís spine. There is a cat that shows up in the film as a gift for Willard from Cathryn. I found myself immediately in love with it, and the humor that surrounds the first half of its screen time is pretty funny. It can work the remote and it doesnít even chase rats for dinner, even when they are scattered around the floor on any place you may want to set your foot down. Released on DVD by New Line Cinema, this character study comes equipped with gruesome deleted and alternate scenes, a filmmaker commentary, a documentary, trailers, and even more! While I find myself loathing multiple remakes for their shot-for-shot styles, over hyped modern twists, and sometimes completely unnecessary material, 2003's Willard is simply not the case as itís crafted terrifically and performed amazingly. If you think you can just slip this one by, think again. Join the rat race and Buy it!
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