Fans of the “Back to the Future” trilogy are surely familiar with Crispin Glover, who adroitly played the role of Marty’s unassertive, meek father George McFly. As McFly, Glover exuded a natural, utter lack of self-confidence and demonstrated his knack for timidity. The makers of “Willard” were obviously familiar with his past projects and had little hesitation when casting the sheepish protagonist of their film.
A retelling of the story that spawned a 1971 film of the same name, “Willard” takes viewers through the absolutely pathetic life of Willard Stiles, a feeble middle-aged man who works at his dead father’s company and lives with his overbearing, slowly decaying mother.
Facing constant belittling from his mother and his boss, Frank Martin, – played fiercely but somewhat humorously by “Full Metal Jacket” Drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermey -Willard has no sound personal relationships and lives a life of despair and ever-mounting angst, that is, until his mother sends him to their basement to investigate a potential rodent problem.
Willard blankets the lower level of their dilapidated house with mouse traps, hoping to rid their home of the vermin. Upon finally catching one of the rats, however, Willard becomes especially sympathetic towards the basement dwellers. He takes in the captured rat as a pet of sorts and names him Socrates, with respect to his intelligence.
Intrigued by his first rodent companion, Willard returns to the basement where he finds hundreds of Socrates’ cohorts, all with which he has an especially good rapport. Upon discovering his personal connection with the rats, Willard begins to train them, developing minions for his own personal acts of vengeance, the first of which is an attack on Martin’s house.
Willard’s acts progress from petty vandalism, and upon his mother’s death – which was because of a heart attack caused by an encounter with the rats – and his subsequent findings that his boss is in fact trying to swindle his money and the family home, Willard targets Martin.
Screenwriter Glen Morgan, an alleged Hitchcock fanatic, seeks to recreate a tense, classic thriller and Glover is certainly the appropriate man for the lead. His grudgingly feeble persona is ideal for this role. His character is rather sympathetic, a product of others’ restraints and subjugation. The self-indulgent, unforgiving nature of his mother and boss only increase sympathy for him.
Glover’s tense character and “Willard’s” typically somber environs are complemented and balanced well by almost farcical humor at times. Whether it be his alien appearance juxtaposed with normal people at a supermarket or his mother’s admonishing about masturbation, the film employs Willard’s overwrought character as a comic relief to the mood that it otherwise creates. On the whole, though, Glover creates the perfect for this tempestuous role; furthermore, the frenzied rats become refreshing mechanisms for thrill and horror, certainly getting under your skin.
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars