Now I've seen a couple of movies with rats as the theme, namely Stephen King's 'Graveyard Shift' and 'Willard' (2003), so I decided to give 'The Rats' a try. Certainly, there are a few "natural horror" films out there that can pull it off, like the former two just mentioned, as well as Hitchcock's 'The Birds' or Spielberg's 'Jaws'. However, most tend to be rather lukewarm and in this case my expectations were pretty accurate. It had its moments, but it was nothing outstanding by any means.
Brad Douriff as Tucker Cleveland, the rat exterminator
in 'Graveyard Shift' -- if the exterminator in 'The Rats'
was anything like him, it would've made the movie
The rodent problem starts with a young woman getting bitten in the changing room of Garsons, a large department store in Midtown of New York City. Susan Costello (Mädchen Amick, 'Sleepwalkers'), who manages all the details of the department store, is able to satisfy the customer, believing it to have been a loose carpenter screw. But it's not long after that the young woman is hospitalized, having contracted a serious case of Leptospirosis, a.k.a. Weil's Disease (except in reality the disease is spread by urine, not bites). But speaking of urine, it's after the store contracts a discreet rat exterminator named Jack Carver (Vincent Spano, 'Tales From The Crypt' season 5, episode 6) that we find the little buggers have been marking their territory all over the third floor of the store, and I mean all over.
While the focus of the rat problem is at Garsons, it starts to hit home for Susan and her daughter Amy (Daveigh Chase, 'The Ring' 2002) when one tries to get through their apartment window. They call the supervisor, who doesn't actually plan on doing anything about it since he is a rodent sympathizer. That evidently becomes a mistake when more of the black, aggressive rats appear in his basement apartment, swarming and killing him. (As an Easter egg of sorts in this movie, 'The Fly' (1958) plays on the super's television set.) Oddly enough, his disappearance is never noticed or mentioned hereafter.
Later, another rat incident occurs at an indoor, community swimming pool in Midtown's recreational center, which Amy happens to use for practice and fun. In some respects, the scene reminds me of something out of 'Jaws'. People scramble to get out of the water while the rest yell rather redundant exclamations, like "Get out of the water!" or "Swim faster!" Like the swimmers don't realize that already. And while it's been established that Amy regularly practices at the pool, for whatever reason she's the last one to get out. It's more dramatic that way, sure, but doesn't make a lot of sense.
As it turns out, when Jack talks to a friend in NYC's health department, there is a whole slew of recent reports ranging from rat bites to infestations across Midtown. But of course it's been swept under the rug, like the pool incident, using a cover story of pranksters and practical jokes. The city has some important, upcoming festivities scheduled, so they don't want to lose face or business. Big surprise. And speaking of business, the same goes for the owner of Garsons, who is rather relieved when Jack and Susan tell her that the rats are originating from somewhere in the sewers. Since it's not on the department store's property it's a city matter, only the city government isn't doing anything about it, either.
This aggravates the protagonists all the more and continue their investigation, which leads them to an abandoned lab in Midtown. No real surprise that these rats aren't natural. And judging by the records left behind, they were part of an experiment using a specific flowering plant for medicinal purposes. In addition to that, Jack estimates that having two years to breed and multiply, the lab rats have amassed into a colony around half a million in size.
As if having a swarm of rats swimming after you in a pool is bad enough, Amy is startled once more by a rat that comes up through their apartment toilet. (Makes you wonder if the girl has an aversion to water from that point on. Apparently not, since Daveigh later ends up in a well.) Eventually, Amy and Susan piece together that the rats are attracted to the flower used in the experiments, which happens to be the key fragrance used in "Flame of the Forest", a perfume carried at Garsons and which the girls have been using. This bit of deduction comes just in time, but not before another incident where the rats are accidentally shocked out of their nesting grounds and swarm into a halted subway train. If you ever played "the floor is lava" game as a kid, this scene is reminiscent of that with the passengers, only in this instance the floor is live rats.
Going back to the Midtown recreational center, they set up a trap by throwing bottles of perfume into the empty pool and lining the siding with explosives. Although why they didn't pull up the grates first before covering the bottom of the pool with broken glass is beyond me. The whole sequence of this final plan is out of order. But sure enough, the rats spill into the pool from the drainage pipes. "Spill" is actually an understatement, as they literally shoot up in geysers.
After Susan gets the worst of it by accidentally falling into the pool full of rats, Jack fishes her out and sets off the explosives. Problem solved, right? Well, as it turns out before the credits role, a smaller swarm of surviving rats appear in a park garbage receptacle. Fortunately, no one has taken advantage of this open ending to film a sequel. Aside from the attacks, 'The Rats' is a mediocre movie with a generic storyline. Not horrible, but not great, either. I give it two out of five mousetraps.