A pathetic shell of a man shy milquetoast Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) leads a lonely life caring for his dying mother in their dirty and decrepit old mansion where his late father’s portrait (of Bruce Davison Willard in the 1971 original) hangs in gloomy watch over his urn of ashes no lights are ever on and rats are overrunning the basement. He’s got a miserable desk job working for the cruel man who took over Willard’s family business and who gives him nothing but grief day in and day out. When his mother orders Willard (whom she calls “Clark” as she hates his given name) to kill the rats breeding downstairs he not only can’t bring himself to do it he goes so far as to make pets of them. Socrates gets favored-rat status inspiring resentment in Ben a huge black rat that Willard requently and unceremoniously throws into the basement by its thick tail. But befriending them doesn’t end there; when Willard discovers that he can psychically command his new–and quickly multiplying–friends to do things like “tear it up ” he employs this four-legged army to exact revenge upon his enemies. Willard’s control is short-lived however and when jealous Ben takes charge of the rat pack nothing can stop the roiling hordes from “tearing up” whatever–and whoever–they want.
Crispin Glover (The River’s Edge Back to the Future) was born to play seething manic Willard. Sadly Glover is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors no doubt because he chooses off-putting movies and characters like these that are devastatingly funny pitiable and abhorrent all at once. Here he delivers an ace performance as a troubled young man who gradually slips down the slope of madness into utter dementia. Ultimately Willard is as awful as anyone else yet the gut-wrenching emotional roller-coaster ride Glover takes us on creates a weird empathy for this antihero as his snarling features twist from doubt to anger to fear to sadness in the blink of an eye. R. Lee Ermey is a monster as Willard’s boss Frank Martin; Jackie Burroughs as Willard’s ghastly revolting mother is given some of the movie’s funniest lines; and Socrates and Ben (rat? CGI? Chinchilla?) bring it home.
Written and directed by Glen Morgan (screenwriter Final Destination X-Files) Willard is a fascinating character study made even more so by its subtext of betrayal. The term “rat” can be used to describe one who betrays and everyone in this movie is a “rat ” so to speak: Willard’s family is betrayed; Willard’s parents betray him; Willard betrays his animal friends; Willard is betrayed. The only non-“rats” are in fact the furred-and-whiskered ones who repulsive as they may be are loyal until given reason not to be. The production values and editing are outstanding the script is tight some of the lines are laugh-out-loud funny and the blacker-than-black humor will appeal to the sort of people who won’t mind watching a kitty cat meet its demise to Michael Jackson‘s schmaltzy “Ben.” That said animal lovers beware: Even though you know it’s not real Willard contains some horrifying scenes. Still despite the vile turns the movie takes you have to hand it to Morgan who is unafraid nay eager to go there. You on the other hand may not be so willing.