What I'm Watching: Ratter
(Hello there! I don't normally jump into a review to reedit it like this, but for some reason, this review has blown up! Y'all are coming around here and have made this the most viewed thing since it was posted. By a huge factor. This gets more hits than everything else on my site COMBINED! So I just wanted to poke in and go...what?! Where are all of you coming from?? What did I do that's made THIS of all things popular? I hope everyone is enjoying this, and you will check out the rest of the site. Also, feel free to make a comment here, or drop me a line in email/social media links at the bottom of the page! I now return you to your regularly scheduled review.)
First up, I am gonna get into spoilers towards the end of this, because I need to yell about the ending. You have been warned.
Found footage has clearly found a new variation that everyone wants to try, and it's playing on the fear that everyone has cameras on their phones and computers. It's a good fear to play off of, with the technopanic being high these days, and almost constant stories of hackers breaking into things.
I've reviewed a few movies so far that try to tell a story with the limited resources of the cameras on our devices, and while they may feel ubiquitous, they do hamper storytelling. If the filmmakers are playing fair, many of the cameras are fixed, or in strange positions, like the backside of phones. The various movies I've come across so far use these cameras to varying degrees of success.
Ratter is more successful than most, in that regard. It knows when to move from one device to another, and having someone in the story in control of what cameras we're peeking through works to its advantage. It makes sense for the narrative to switch to any given camera because the stalker is doing it. And the movie doesn't shy away from the occasional awkward camera angle from phones or laptops, cutting off heads or filming walls. It maybe does it TOO much, because I'm not here to watch a wall, but again, it makes sense, and adds to the feeling of realism.
Sadly, the cinematography is one of the few things good about this movie. Everything else just falls apart, most importantly the story.
The lead actress, Ashley Benson who is best known for Pretty Little Liars, actually does a convincing job as Emma. You feel for her, you know that feeling of living alone for the first time in the big scary city, and really roll along with her feelings of vulnerability. She's charming, and likable, and you root for her, when things start going wrong.
Which, frustratingly, takes forever to happen, at least as far as she can tell. The movie spends nearly the entire first 45 minutes just watching Emma wander around the city, hang out in her apartment, flirt with a guy, go to classes, etc. There are bits and pieces where she notices something weird going on, like photos have gone missing from the cloud, or strange blocked texts, but she largely brushes these off, like most people would, for the large part of the movie. Which again, helps the realism, but drags the movie down into not much happening for a long time.
That's fine, that's normal, but it takes the movie far, far too long with far too little tension, to really take off. Once it becomes clear that YES there is someone behind all this stuff, the movie is almost over, and in what really should have been the second act of the movie, is this movie's attempt at a conclusion.
And it fails at a conclusion, also. Oh, this is where you might wanna check out to avoid spoilers! Ahem. Anyways, things culminate when the stalker finally cuts power, crashes into her apartment, and they struggle...off camera. Which is good for stunt coordinating, and lets you imagine what's going on (With added duct tape sounds to give you some ideas), but is frustrating for the audience. We've spent 70 minutes waiting for things to happen, and then we can't see them. On top of that, the big ending is that the guy just looks down at her laptop and closes it.
So...what happened? I'm cool with ambiguous endings, and when movies end in bad ways for the characters, but Ratter didn't quite earn its ending. The movie just...stops. There really needed to be SOMEthing more, a missing third act. Oh, and the guy behind it all is...A TOTAL STRANGER. Which I like on the one hand, because the randomness of horror like that is even scarier than it being someone you know, but it's also unsatisfying, in a big pile of dissatisfaction. I could almost forgive any one of these things, if the others had gone differently. There needed to be SOME sort of payoff, after 80 minutes of build up. But to give us absolutely nothing just left me throwing my hands in the air. There's room for unsatisfying conclusions, but give the audience something, and the rest can be forgiven.
If the movie had gotten to the point a lot quicker, with Emma realising far sooner that there was someone stalking her, and then the second act ended with her being taken, and a third act where we actually learn her fate, and/or who the attacker was, even if she dies, even if he's still random, I think it would have made a more satisfying movie.
It is still the best use of these sorts of camera angles, and the story is well told for what we got, but there's not enough meat to this movie to really make it a good movie. It gets an A for effort and style, but doesn't stick the landing, if I can mix metaphors.
If you like these kinds of movies, it might be worth the watch just to see how they do things for yourself, and Ashley is easily the best part of the movie. The terror and story might work better for other people, so I can't quite say avoid at all costs, but it definitely wasn't for me. If you go in with open eyes, and knowing some of what's coming, you can at least find some enjoyment in watching the style and Ashley.