ninth symphony films - movie reviews

WILLARD (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  glen morgan

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  horror

LENGTH  -  100 minutes

RELEASED  -  14 march 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  new line cinema

OFFICIAL SITE  -  willard

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $22,000,000
willard - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from willard at

buy the dvd from willard at

a young man with an unusual connection with rats, uses them at his own sociopathic will.

distributor new line once thought to give willard an august 2003 release in america, but opted for one much sooner, in the middle of march.


picture from willard

picture from willard

picture from willard


one out of four possible stars

While the rats in Willard may indeed give some viewers the creeps, those viewers will probably have some pre-existing psychological condition or fear of rats to begin with, because anyone else probably won't be especially affected by the little rodents. On a mental level, the most evil person in the film is the title character, "Willard," played with a strange seriousness by Crispin Glover. Though he was well cast, Glover's character isn't always the most sympathetic. Far more sympathetic are the rats that Willard employs to do his dirty work.

As a man with a telepathic ability to control rats, it would seem having a talent like that would predispose someone to being on the "evil" side of the fence, though this film seems to want to make Willard a character the audience will root for. One of the problems in this strategy though is that it's not always possible to take the film seriously. It's unclear whether the filmmakers intended the film to resemble a horror film spoof, but it does so in more than one instance. One would hesitate to use the word, "silly," in reference to the horrific things that occur in this movie, but that word is still not too far off the mark.

It seems that the director was at least marginally interested in making the tone of the film a creepy one, but the feel of it doesn't always come off that way. Though the art direction and set direction certainly convey a sense of dread and unease, the evil little rats themselves might be to blame. The film fails to do more than create a creepy atmosphere because the rats just aren't creepy enough. They are quite dangerous in more than one scene, but viewers won't be scared at every scratch and tap they hear under the floorboards or inside the walls in the weeks after seeing this film.

Perhaps the director was more interested in making a spoof or homage of the original film, a surprise hit when it was released in the early 1970's and a movie that sparked interest in horror films involving animals (think Jaws). The trailer for the film though seems much more intent on making the film seem as scary as possible, as the music track is an alternative rock song by the Smashing Pumpkins. There is no humor in the trailer and if one were to view the film after having seen and read nothing about it save that trailer, the experience in the theater would probably be a different one than would be expected.

While the film is not a laugh-out-loud riot by any means, the bottom line is that it's just not scary enough. Good performances aside for the moment, the film fails to instill a large enough sense of dread in the audience to make the film a truly frightening experience. Though insulting comments can't really be thrown in Crispin Glover's direction, his steady and clear performance is sometimes too over-the-top to take seriously. And because of that, the movie's just not scary enough to make one want to look away from the screen (ala Alien or give a shout out in fright (ala Signs).

On the technical side of filmmaking however, the film excels in many areas. The art direction is controlled like that of a play, and with the film's restrictive setting (much of it takes place in a house), the movie could have well been made into a play as well. Though it's certain the rats would have been somewhat difficult to control on a live stage. If viewers come away from the film with any sense of dread, they will have received it from the art director, whose attention to atmosphere as a storytelling device made an improvement on what seems to have been a movie without a lot of physical dread. Sure, there is a certain amount of gore (somewhat of a requirement for a horror film, right?), but the eeriness of the locations used is a definite plus for the production.

The look of the film almost resembles that of The Addams Family, though most of the humor in Willard was probably not intended, as it was in The Addams Family. If director Glen Morgan's focus in creating this film was to pay homage to the film upon which Willard is based, he probably has succeeded on some levels. Though there are a few rather creepy elements to the film (extending mostly from the look of the film), and the rat special effects are always convincing, it might be difficult to really give one's full attention to the film, given that it feels tongue and cheek when it's not supposed to give off that vibe. The film can easily be labeled "strange" and the performances in it are good, if not well-done. But perhaps this film will play best to fans of the original or rat lovers. As there are quite a lot of rats in this film.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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