Rat Film wants to talk about Baltimore—how its history of racist real estate policies contributed to urban blight and reduced opportunities that persist today. To do so, director Theo Anthony takes the looong way around, with an experimental documentary that tosses in video-game philosophizing, theoretical suffocated infants, drag racing, and inner city blowgun use onto the pile of bric-a-brac it accumulates in order to climb to its conclusion.
Oh yeah, and there are rats. In Rat Film they act alternately as noxious pests, cuddly shoulder ornaments, and scurrying rhetorical stand-ins for—and unwanted companions of—Baltimore’s less fortunate. They’re eaten by snakes, dragged from alleyways by fishing poles, relentlessly poisoned, and given free reign of one home’s basement.
It all makes for a bewildering pastiche that’s gripping to watch even as you try to piece together what Anthony is working toward. I still can’t say I understand it completely, and I’ve seen far more informative projects on both rats and redlining. But I’m damned if I wasn’t interested for all of Rat Film’s 80 minutes. You’ve got to roll your eyes at some of Anthony’s dramatic preening, but there are interesting characters on display here—even if it’s not always clear what they have to say.