A low budget slasher flick set in a high school, “Black Rat” begins with a scene that will shock and delight fans of the genre. The agonized groans of a boy, stripped to his underwear and covered in blood reverberate around the empty high-school corridors. The reason for his distress: a figure with a large rat head mask carrying a metal pole who is stalking him with murderous intent. As this figure reaches his victim the credits roll, overlaid by a legend about 7 rats, all of whom had various characteristics, that ends with an enigmatic message asking: “who is the last rat?”. We then see a girl dancing on the school roof, black rat mask before her, before jumping to her death. The suicide of this girl, Asuka (Rina Saito), is followed months later by her classmates receiving a message telling them all to come to the school that night. Our unhappy group include Misato (Misaki Yonemura), Asuka’s best friend, Kengo, Ryota (Hiroya Matsumoto), Saki and Kaneko, all of whom have some connection to Asuka. As they arrive at the school they are met by a female in a school uniform wearing the bloodied black rat mask. She tells them she is there for revenge and one by one they will be killed.
Written by Futoshi Fujita and directed by Kenta Fukasaku (Battle Royale 2), “Black Rat” follows a fairly predictable slasher narrative with a group of unlucky individuals brought together to be bumped off in innovative ways. Flashbacks give us a little detail on them and their relationship with their deceased classmate. The plot’s major weakness is in the reveal of the killer’s motivation. Each flashback provokes no great feeling of dawning realisation but a shrug. It seems unlikely that their minor indiscretions, being slightly uncaring about Asuka’s end of term project, or cheating on her, would provoke the bloody slaughter they are subjected too. Twists later in the film go some way to explaining what is happening, but again it doesn’t tie together in an entirely logical way. The audience is left to wonder why the students aren’t able to overwhelm their adversary, or run from her. The tenuous plot does not necessarily harm the film, depending on what you are looking for there are still moments to enjoy.
While clearly filmed on a low budget, using a single location and small cast, the film excels in making the most of what it has. The abandoned school at night offers the perfect spot for horror, with deep pools of shadow in every room, the impenetrable darkness gathering in each corner, creating a chilling atmosphere. The eerie silence of the building sets up the tension perfectly in the early portion of the film and as things move into action mode later we see colour shifts through green and red to highlight the change of tone. There is also gothic imagery used to good effect, with the dissected animals of the biology class and the uniformed schoolgirl with a rat’s head creates an instantly unpleasant and iconic antagonist.
While it is generic and the plot leaves something to be desired, “Black Rat” is an entertaining diversion. From the very beginning you know exactly the type of film you are going to get and it delivers that. The concept of a masked killer and a high-school grudge is hardly new to the genre, but the film knows this and wastes little extraneous time attempting to be anything other than a cheap slasher flick. The art direction makes it worth a watch and it is clear that much of it is intended to be tongue-in-cheek fun.