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CUFF 2024: Rats! Review 

By Nimra Amir, April 25 2024— 

Rats! — which screened at the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) on Apr. 20 — is the brainchild of CUFF alumni Maxwell Nalevansky and Carl Fry, and fully committed to the good vibes that were to be expected from the debut feature film. 

Raphael (Luke Wilcox) from Fresno, Texas experiences the turbulent rollercoaster of misguided chaos that begins with his expected visit to county jail after his arrest by psychotic Officer Williams (Danielle Evon Ploeger) for graffiti on the Fresno monumental phone booth. You would not predict some hefty sentence for graffiti, right? Yet the moment that Raphael walks out of the cell, the trajectory of his summer is forever changed.

Raphael is forced to engage in the string operation at the bright pink house that would target his cousin Mateo (Darius Autry) who is suspected to be in possession of nuclear weapons. Obviously, not wanting to be a snitch, Raphael almost instantly confesses to Mateo —  only to discover the long-standing vendetta that Williams has had for Mateo since he got caught smelling like marijuana in high school.

The pair find ways to manage the increasingly deranged antics of Williams and try to go about their life the best they can — whether that be completing community service or vibing to the new Flophouse mix-tape. But as Williams grows more deranged with every day of summer that passes by, the impending clash that looms over their heads becomes inevitable. Soon enough, their summer escapades come to a natural end in the final blowout between the group.

To witness the action-packed scenes amidst the heavy 2007 emo-culture references was the combination that allowed the humour of Rats! to really shine through. The long swooped hair on characters like Raphael and the choker necklaces with chains on characters like Bernadette (Khali Sykes) made them seem like real people in this world that most of us do recognize. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of that with authority, there is abuse of power that officers like Williams exert over offenders, especially youth offenders, like Raphael or Mateo on their misadventures. 

Yet without the vibrant colours and the Blink-182 references, Rats! would not be able to touch on such topics like institutional corruption in ways that were completely unique but all too relatable. 

Rats! exemplifies the creative spirit of CUFF with its refreshing take on the indie film landscape. With its blend of offbeat humour through its compelling characters that represent an almost nostalgic shoutout to a bygone era, the film serves as a testament to the personal allure of independent cinema.

To check out Rats! and other films at CUFF, you can buy tickets on their website

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