M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! I posted my very first horror reviews on October 1, 2010 and have been posting every Friday ever since on AICN until just recently. I’ve uprooted the show and taken it to my own site just in time for this year’s Best of the Best in Horror Countdown. It’s going to be running all through October, counting down to the best horror film of the year. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked through my reviews over the last year since October 1st, 2016 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth nothing or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#23 Morgan Spurlock’s RATS #23
Why is Morgan Spurlock’s RATS #23? WHA-WHA-WHAAAAAT? A documentary in a horror countdown? Well, if you’re as terrified of rats as I am (and living in the city, it is hard not to encounter these scurrying beasts from hell), this film will definitely send shivers all the way down your spine. Spurlock gets right down in the gutters with these creatures and shows how they are regarded around the great wide world. Warning: this one will make your skin crawl right off! You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
aka RATS NYC
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Written by Morgan Spurlock & Jeremy Chilnick, based on the book by Robert Sullivan
Starring Ed Sheehan, Bobby Corrigan, Dr. Michael Blum, and a shit ton of frikkin’ gross rats!
Documentarian Morgan Spurlock eats a rat a day for a month and charts the effects to his energy level and vital signs in this shocking exploration of what rat consummation does to human biology…
No, that’s not what RATS is about but wouldn’t it be awesome if it was?
RATS is Spurlock’s latest documentary exploring the infestation of rats in the world’s most highly congested areas. Spanning the world from New York to New Orleans to Mumbai to Cambodia/Viet Nam to England and back to Westchester to India, Spurlock shows us many aspects of rats and how they have adapted and survived throughout the centuries. Spurlock looks at how different cultures respond to rat infestation; from acceptance to extermination, from scientific research to consumption.
Where Spurlock’s documentarian genius kicks in is the way he bops around the countries telling a story of a creature who evolves to fight against all forms of ways to get rid of it almost as fast as we come up with it. At the same time, he cleverly tells us how many of them we have among us, then goes into how many diseases and parasites these rats carry, and then shows us various way the human population deals with them; from making money for rat carcasses to using rats as food! After seeing the wriggly worm parasites through a microscope, I dare anyone not to wince at the Vietnamese dining on them half a world away and telling the cameraman that they taste just like chicken.
Adding some personality to the mix, the film isn’t as much narrated as it is bookended with a talk with an actual exterminator who has been doing the job for many years. Dramatically lit in a warehouse, slouching in an easy chair and lighting a stogie, this wizened exterminator looks and talks ominously like Quint from JAWS about the danger of the common rat and how it will most likely survive us all. Along this journey, we also see those who survive by selling rats, putting their lives at risk of contamination themselves for profit. Spurlock looks at government funded programs and compares them to the small time exterminator in New York without judgment, but also showing how each factor in the war against rats feel about one another (clue: they don’t think to kindly of each other). Meanwhile, a world away, other methods of extermination such as the grueling hunt of the rats by rat terriers which root out rats and tear them apart right in front of your eyes is shown. Each method succeeds in one thing; killing rats, but the fact is there are always more of them.
More of a cross representation of how we deal with rats, where the film falls a bit short is the fact that there really is no answer to the rat problem. But maybe that’s the point since despite all of the efforts people have tried through the years, these rats persist and continue to be a problem. Also, since I’m talking about criticism of the film, I kept on waiting for Pizza Rat to show up, but he never did. Sad face emoticon.
Living in a large city myself, I have developed a huge fear of rats since I see them almost on a daily basis. There is something primal that occurs in me when I see a rat and I can’t help but wince. Anything that can cause that reaction in me fascinates me (I would think that is obvious given my commitment to this AICN HORROR column) and therefore any film that attempts to delve into the subject of rats, be it fictional or documentary, has my interest. RATS is a fantastic look at how we try to live with these scurrying creatures across the globe. Spurlock doles out the information about these horrifying creatures as if he’s telling the most terrifying of horror tales and adds to the terror with all kinds of rat-like squeaks and chitters in the score.
The most skin-clawliest, creepiest, and delightfully queasy movie you’re bound to see in a long time is RATS. It’s more of a horror movie than many because it is real. This film made me itch, squirm, wince, get nauseous, and scream in terror more so than any cinematic horror I’ve seen in ages. It’s one of the best horror films of the year. Seek it out if you dare because the scares in this film are in the streets, right outside your doorway, and maybe already in the house!
Worth noting: MORGAN!
You see, Morgan Spurlock directed RATS and then I chose MORGAN as worth noting. See what I did there? Anyways, MORGAN is a clever and twisted little Frankenstein tale about a genetically created child run amok against its creators. The action is solid and there are a few twists and turns that took me by surprise. While the film might be categorized as more sci fi than horror (which is the main reason I didn’t include it in the column proper), it’s still an awesome flick. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on BluRay/DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment!
Directed by Luke Scott
Written by Seth W. Owen
Starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Toby Jones, Chris Sullivan, Boyd Holbrook, Vinette Robinson, Michelle Yeoh, Brian Cox, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Crispian Belfrage, Amybeth McNulty, Jonathan Aris
Find out more about this film here
While more of a science fiction tale than a straight up horror one, MORGAN definitely has roots in the Mary Shelley’s classic. Well acted, vividly directed, and tightly told, MORGAN has a big budget cast but tells an intimate tale of science gone wrong.
Developed in a lab, Morgan (THE WITCH’s Anya Taylor-Joy), or Modified ORGANism, is kept in a secluded scientific facility with her every move watched and documented by a team of scientists. Looking like a sixteen year old, but only actually five, an incident involving some aggressive behavior has prompted corporate to send in two specialists (Agent Weathers played by Kate Mara and Dr.Shapiro played by Paul Giamatti) to evaluate whether or not to scrap the entire program. Though the first two versions of what Morgan is were deemed failures, this third one has developed to her creator Dr. Cheung’s (Michelle Yeoh) expectations, but this most recent incident (involving Jennifer Jason Leigh’s eye and a pencil) is a setback and the entire team working with Morgan including GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie, the always awesome Toby Jones, and the victim of the incident (Jennifer Jason Leigh) fear that all of the work they have put into the safety and caring of Morgan are going to be scrapped by suits who know nothing about her. What proceeds is an “us versus them” scenario where those caring for Morgan find themselves fighting against the funders who know nothing about her.
Doesn’t sound like too thrilling stuff, but what MORGAN is—is SPECIES or SPLICE done right (though I rather liked both of those films). It focuses on the relationships between Morgan’s caretakers and how irrelevant those caretakers and the work they do matter in the real world of numbers and money. Having worked in a mental health facility, I’ve experienced this first hand with management and admin passing rules and orders from their desks while those working with clients everyday are powerless in the client’s ultimate fate. Being familiar with this, MORGAN hit me on a more powerful level than most films of this type, but also because of the way this film unfolds in a simple, yet powerful way. MORGAN isn’t some sweeping epic film where the government is called in with machine guns to take on a disruptive and soon to be escaped experiment. It’s more of an ethical debate told through wonderful acting and intense scenes of action. Seeing this all play out assures me that someone involved in this film at some time in their lives worked in a mental health or medical facility and has seen this type of conflict played out between corporate and frontline before. That real world heft makes MORGAN a thinking man’s science fiction film rather than one about a sultry alien trying to fuck her way into taking over the world.
More akin with Joe Wright’s HANNA than SPECIES in terms of attention to character, MORGAN is excellently acted by Taylor-Joy who, as she did with THE WITCH, shows that she is a powerhouse of an actress and one to look out for. Kate Mara is the real surprise here as she commands the entire film. Moving almost robotically through the film as the determined Agent Weathers, Mara is an ass-kicking, no-nonsense soldier trained to take out Morgan if she has to, but also shares a few moments of humanity that shows something much more complex going on. Yeoh and Jones are great, but that’s to be expected and Paul Giamatti really makes for a convincing psychologist trying to manipulate things in a performance that is less over the top than his usual roles. Another true surprise is Rose Leslie’s nuanced performance as Dr. Menser who shares a bond with Morgan like no other in the film as her therapist. All of these roles are integral in the way this great wheel of a story rotates. None of them are chewing scenery or playing it porky. All of them, even Leigh—who really gets very little to do here other than writhe in pain from Morgan’s attack, serve a purpose to the story and play their part masterfully in this lean, yet potent story.
Looked at as a whole, there’s nothing particularly different in MORGAN that hasn’t been done before in a monster developed in a lab and turned on its maker tale like FRANKENSTEIN, EX-MACHINA, SPECIES, SPLICE, HANNA, and the like. It just does the whole thing with absolute perfection and that’s what makes it a must see, in my opinion. The attention to the struggle between the upstairs and downstairs players is what makes this film different and in many ways, much more realistic. A late in the game twist works awesomely in MORGAN as does the minimalist sci fi going on. It is quite possible, somewhere in the world, this type of experiment is happening or it will in the very near future. As all science gone wrong tales, this is a precautionary tale that is relevant today as Shelley’s was when she wrote FRANKENSTEIN.
In and out of the theaters, mainly because of what seems to have been a vague and misleading ad campaign, here’s hoping MORGAN finds an audience at home as it really is a ground level sci fi that deserves notice with performances by a cast of people you know and some who will be big, big stars soon enough. The BluRay/DVD release comes with a ton of special features, including deleted scenes, director Luke Scott’s commentary, Scott’s short film LOOM which has shades of MORGAN in it, as well as a behind the scenes featurette looking at the Making of MORGAN.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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