Clocking in at fifteen minutes, Mark Logan’s Rats doesn’t feel its length – its tale of a literary historian (Nicholas Vince, Hellraiser, Mindless, Remnant) and his ill-advised visit to Montague Castle stays engaging in its slow-burning first half, and manages an all-important gear-shift as it races towards its end.
Much of the film’s early heavy lifting is done by Vince and his amusing and knowingly clunky exchange with castle caretaker Charlie (Egomaniac and Human Centipede franchise alum Laurence Harvey). Both bring some gravitas and a good command of tone to the table, and the blackly funny element doesn’t ever do too much to dispel the growing unease that lurks just beneath the surface – or in this case, behind the wall. Indeed, the film’s biggest laugh comes when Bill, in an attempt to neutralise the unsettling presence of a waxwork of a maid by his bedside, takes a selfie with it as he awaits the arrival of new love Jess (Beneath a Neon Tide‘s Jessica Messenger).
Moments later, his attempt to locate the bathroom results in his first encounter with the root cause of the strange scratching sound he hears behind the wall. It’s a satisfying moment, and another feather in the cap of practical effects wizard Paul While. The exchange that follows between Bill and Charlie is frantically funny, and it’s only in the film’s final scene where the tension-to-humour balance feels a little askew. Its old-fashioned approach to its scares and its deeply-rooted eccentricity might not appeal to everyone, but Rats is an accomplished, unusual short that’s well worth your time.