It's not very often that you sit down to watch an enviro doc and end up thinking to yourself "Man, this would make a great horror flick!," but such is the case with the uniquely engaging wonder that is Rodents of Unusual Size, a doc centered firmly within the world of nutria.
I could hear you from all the way over here in Indiana.
"Nutria?," you said. "What's nutria?"
Nutria are these beastly motherfuckers, seriously invasive 20-pound swamp rats originating from South America now firmly planted within Louisiana's coastal wetlands where they are breeding faster than they can be hunted down by cajun hunters determined to stem the damage from their voracious appetites as they slowly but surely destroy the natural wetlands.
Florida has pythons. Louisiana? Nutria.
If Rodents of Unusual Size sounds like it would be some quirky, laugh a minute doc, well, you're only partially right. The filmmaking team of Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer, and Quinn Costello knows full well that the story contained within Rodents of Unusual Size is an unusual one yet while they stylize the film within that unusual vibe it's also a seriously told story that perfectly captures the cultural aura of the Delacroix Island personality and the lives of the people who choose to take up the battle against these evil looking critters, mostly courtesy of a decently paying bounty program, and spend their days and nights hunting down and killing 'em. The film has spent the better part of the past year on the indie festival circuit playing at over 100 festivals and counting while picking up 17 awards, and counting, along the way. Rodents of Unusual Size also screened as part of the PBS Independent Lens project and has been picked up by Grasshopper Films for a worldwide digital release this month.
Much of Rodents of Unusual Size centers around Thomas Gonzales, one such bounty hunter and the kind of cajun you imagine when you imagine cajuns.
That's a compliment, if you're wondering.
Gonzales left school at 13 after deciding he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps as a fisherman. Now an older gent, Gonzales spends a lot of his time hunting down these nutria, serving here as a catalyst for the ways in which Rodents of Unusual Size takes us through the history of nutria's introduction into the United States and the ways in which natural disasters may have had more than a little impact in their rampant breeding and destruction.
Imagine, if you will, the beadiest eyed little beastly thing that you can with orange teeth that practically glow in the dark and you'll get an idea of what to expect from nutria. Once valued for their furs and still prized as tastier than steak, it wasn't until the bounty program was initiated that locals began taking seriously the environmental task of eliminating the nutria.
While it may seem like they're an awful lot less dangerous than those pesky pythons, it only takes one look at those nutria to realize they could do some serious damage if they wanted to do some serious damage.
I'm telling you. There's a horror film waiting to happen here.
Narrated to perfection by celebrated New Orleans native, and former The Independent Critic interviewee, Wendell Pierce (Selma), Rodents of Unusual Size is an extraordinarily entertaining feature doc that celebrates its quirkiness without ever dissolving down into caricature of time, place or people. Music by the Grammy nominated Lost Bayou Ramblers gives the film a perfectly electric, lively vibe and production values are top notch throughout this thoroughly enjoyable, impossible to not love documentary.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic