“I never dance.” So says brooding, Internet-addicted Jury (Max Ovaska) to his implausibly patient and pretty-waif girlfriend, Mia (Niina Koponen), as they hang at the local discotheque. Such a place gives Jury the appropriate cover of darkness to check on his online buds via iPhone, as well as conceal his jagged cheekbones under his Anakin-like hoodie, but the throbbing beat and thrashing bodies are for one person and one person only, and that’s Finnish director Petri Kotwica. In his fourth feature since 1995, Kotwica clearly has designs on the legacy of deeply troubled and/or homicidal youth films such as We Need to Talk About Kevin and Afterschool, but his soul belongs to Mark Pellington’s Arlington Road, pre-Domino Tony Scott, and any boy-torso-flashing music video from 1981 to present. If you liked Elephant, but felt it didn’t have enough shots of characters running, in unironic slow motion, through a symbolically cleansing CGI rain, well, does Kotwica have a film for you.
A distant cousin of the title character from the 1998 anime series Serial Experiments: Lain, Jury spends most of his days and nights playing Call of Duty in his darkened bedroom, which is piled high with computer monitors, cables, routers, and other equipment. His schoolwork suffers, his teachers think he’s a lost cause, his mother and his girlfriend think he might be a lunatic, and even his online friends begin to withdraw. By chance, he happens upon one of them, a similarly scrawny kid named Niki (Julius Lavonen), who claims to be involved in a new online game of the play-or-die-for-real variety.
The script, which Kotwica wrote with Iiro Küttner, throws out a ton of false leads, but it’s uncertain if any of them are intentional or just the result of incompetence. The viewer spends the first 40-odd minutes testing schizoid-personality and conspiracy theories to see if they’ll fit the opaque yet blundering story as it develops. When the film actually makes its big play, it’ll dawn on you that any such notions would lend Rat King entirely too much credit for cleverness.
What I can’t really wrap my head around is how thoroughly Kotwica mismanages the tone of the film, which might earn the banner “massively homoerotic” if it was sincere in that regard for even a second. A bear-hug fight between Jury and Niki ends in a smash cut to other assorted business, not as a suggestive ellipsis but as a weird cheat, before the fight gets too, you know, Y Tu Mamá También-ish. Not long after, Jury’s original proclamation that he never dances is predictably overturned, and he lets loose with a shirtless thrash bit that Joel Schumacher would have thought was a bit much, while Niki bangs on the drums in the background. (There might have been a flame-cannon involved.)
The hardware all looks appropriately 2011, but Rat King‘s cautionary attitude toward Internet overindulgence is stuck in the mid-1990s, and Kotwica’s flashy, music-video chops barely keep the enterprise afloat. Jury seems to be the only smart phone owner in three days’ walk, while the plot is strictly direct-to-video, as in VHS, one copy at Blockbuster (just before the wall of Ratatouille), starring Damian Chapa.