In new horror short The Rat, from writer and director Carlen May-Mann, 18 year-old Renee goes with her boyfriend Jim to an old abandoned house, for what she thinks will be turn out to be a fun Halloween night, but it turns out be the beginning of what could be the worst experience of her life.
When Jim (Collin Kelley-Sordelet) takes a detour on the way to a house party, his girlfriend Renee (Isabel Shill) becomes apprehensive with the sudden change in plans, but despite her hesitancy, she eventually gives in when he convinces her that they could use an old abandoned house for some personal time. Upon their arrival, he leads her to a bedroom with water stained walls, peeling paint and devoid of any furniture save a dirty mattress on the floor.
After stripping Renee of most of her clothes, Jim leaves her to get a condom from his truck. While he’s gone Renee starts to hear strange noises coming from outside the room, and begins to panic. Fearful that something or someone else might be in the house, she walks out cautiously and comes face to face with the one thing she’s always feared, a rat, but not the kind she was expecting.
Later that night, at the house party they had originally planned on attending, Renee sits on a couch surrounded by friends and classmates as she stares at Jim across the room chatting with his frat buddies and drinking from the party keg. As the camera pans in for a close up, her posture becomes more and more withdrawn, and her eyes show an uneasiness that allows the viewer to come to the same conclusion she has…Jim just might be the monster she’s always been afraid of, and should she stay with him, he might destroy her.
Usually when we think about horror films, we associate them with ghoulish entities like demons (human and supernatural), horrific accidents, death traps, and terrifying creatures. That said, for some, true horror can manifest when faced with the realization that the person they’re involved with might be more dangerous than anything they previously feared. For any young person who has always had that inkling that something about their partner might be off, or possibly dangerous, Jim’s actions and words are familiar.
When Renee expresses discomfort over a decision he made without her input, his dismissiveness is a red flag. The way he intentionally uses her fear against her, and then brushes it off as a mere “joke”, is something we’ve either experienced, or witnessed. But in order not to be seen as being “too sensitive” or humorless, we brush it off even though deep down inside we know what happened is no laughing matter. There’s a subtle sense of maliciousness in how easy Jim finds it to only focus on what he wants, by completely ignoring obvious signs of Renee’s discomfort, when they’re alone and at the party.
As Renee, Shill is great at expressing the growing unease that her character feels as the minutes tick by. The looks of fear, loneliness and eventually resignation are palpable, making the viewer instantly connect and empathize with her. With The Rat, May-Mann does an excellent job of highlighting the red flags we all should look for in potentially abusive relationships. Like a rat that burrows through the hidden corners and foundation of a house, abusers burrow into the psyche of their victims, destroying their confidence, creating fractures in their emotional and mental stability.
Though the film is just over 12 minutes in length, it provides insight into the history, present and possible future of both Renee and Jim. The knowledge that Renee is caught in a relationship that is slowing turning into a living nightmare, is truly horrific.
The Rat made it’s global debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and won the Audience Award for Best Short at the 2019 Method Fest. From October, 24, 2019, The Rat will be shown exclusively on ALTER’s Gunpowder & Sky horror brand.
Carolyn is a Freelance Film Critic, Journalist, and Podcaster – and avid live tweeter. Member of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), her published work can be found on But Why Tho, The Beat, Observer, and many other sites. As a critic, she believes her personal experiences and outlook on life, give readers and listeners a different perspective they can appreciate.