Ratcatcher (1999)

Rates: * * * *

Why did I watch it? The first film of acclaimed director Lynne Ramsay.

Cast, crew, etc.

In a Glasgow council estate in the 1970s – AKA: the most depressing environment in human history – a misfit young boy tries to navigate the difficulties of early adolesence, helped not at all by his deadbeat father and a gaggle of local bullies. Meanwhile, the local government deploy an army of inspectors and social workers to micromanage these people’s daily lives, while failing to organise something as basic as a rubbish collection (the garbos are no strike, and rubbish has piled up everywhere).

This ultra low budget movie is notable, nowadays, as the first feature directed by acclaimed auteur Lynne Ramsay. And this film is considerably less energised than some of her later films; her approach here is observational, and simple, the camera perches in the corner and watches these unhappy, frustrated lives. She is also able to wrangle some remarkably attractive, poetic shots, from this industrialised hellscape.

What this movie does have in common with Ramsay’s subsequent films is a fascination with the darker elements of human nature. Our protagonist kills his best/only friend, in the opening scene! And is both never punished for it, nor really seems to feel any remorse about it either. Amoral bullies stalk the younger kids, sexually abusing one young girl, physically abusing the other boys, laughing about it all afterwards.

Kindness and heart are largely missing from this environment; people drift through their daily routines by rote, barely noticing anything around them. No one blinks at the garbage bags, wild dogs, feral children, or plagues of rats. And this blankness extends to the character’s behaviour, as they all tolerate varying degrees of indignity and abuse. The best any of them can hope for is the chance to move to a slightly nicer council estate, in a slightly nicer area.

This is a dehumanising place, vividly captured.

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