Tribeca 2012: ‘Rat King’ artfully distorts reality amidst a video-game nightmare
Written by Petri Kotwica
Directed by Petri Kotwice
Juri (Max Ovaska), the central character of Rat King, prefers the virtual excitement of video games to the everyday drudgery of real life. As a result, his interpersonal relationships have started to suffer. His girlfriend has tired of his neglect, and his single mother worries over his health. But their concerns barely register with Juri, as he considers his Facebook friendships more meaningful than any flesh and blood interaction. However, Juri’s real life soon takes an abrupt and dangerous turn for the surreal when one of Juri’s gaming partners shows up one night fleeing for his life and desperate for a hideout
The paranoid gamer in question, Niki (Julius Lavonen), tells Juri about a new game so intense that trying to quit put his life in jeopardy. Even though Juri has promised his girlfriend he would abandon his gaming lifestyle for the sake of their romance, he finds the temptation of a computer game with real world consequences too irresistible to turn away from, and when he figures out how to log in, he signs up. The game assigns him the handle Rat King and tasks him with a series of five increasingly bizarre assignments. Juri’s obsessive thrill-seeking takes him down a dark road that eventually threatens not just his life but the lives of everyone he cares about.
The line pervasively blurring reality and simulation gets further complicated by a key plot point when Niki and Juri switch places. Niki bears such a strong resemblance to his new friend that he’s able to impersonate him at school, and no one notices, not even Juri’s mother. So a figure from Juri’s online existence takes over for him in real life; that way he can devote more time to solving the riddles of his newest gaming fixation, indicating in a very literal way how Juri’s compulsive computer use is encroaching on his daily life.
Rat King puts to good use all the elements of successful suspense: a dangerously tense situation, daunting complications, enigmatic agendas, and incredible heroics. Kotwica reinforces an eerie story with haunting images and atmospheric camera work. One particularly intense scene employs an ingenious point of view tactic that anyone familiar with first person shooter video games will instantly recognize and rejoice over. While some of the middle sequences might appear to drag, these slow burns always pay off in arrestingly surprising ways. With a high tech concept and smart technique, it is a safe bet Rat King will immensely please gamers and lovers of genre films.