While visiting Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, I had the opportunity to screen City Rats, an independent film being shown at the film festival next door, Slamdance. The film follows eight characters throughout a day in London when it seems that each of them is at a crossroads. It’s a dark and gritty piece, involving subjects ranging from suicide, prostitution, homosexuality and murder. We see four separate stories play out among the characters as each of them reaches out to another to try and come to grips with whatever it is they’re dealing with.

Among the characters are Jim and Sammy, two suicidal strangers who agree to spend one day together before they go through with their suicides. Dean is an artist looking for inspiration. He approaches the prostitute, Gina, living upstairs from him in the hopes that she’ll be his muse. Olly is a sexually confused man who, in looking after his deaf-mute brother Chris for the day, begins to explore his own homosexual tendencies. Finally, there’s Pete, a man who is being pursued by Carol, the mother of a man who’s gone missing. Carol believes Pete may know what happened to her son. As these four sets of characters make their way through the day, we come to see what their personal challenges are and how they do or don’t overcome them with the help of each other.

MyAnna Buring, whom you’ll see in the upcoming film Lesbian Vampire Killers spoke to me a little bit about her suicidal character Sammy, “I was very drawn to trying to understand why someone would be so premeditative about taking one’s own life. Where somebody would have to be in order to think that was the only solution. She’s a tragic character but I think she’s an important one for me to try and understand and get to grips with and I think she’s an important character to try to be portrayed because unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who have that experience.” Buring went on to talk about how sometimes people just get stuck in their lives and have to reach out to someone for help, “We as people, we help each other. We don’t work on our own, we never function alone. We are social creatures,” she went on, “It is together that we find solutions.”

Ray Panthaki, who plays Dean, the artist looking for inspiration, spoke about how he was able to relate to his character, saying, “I kind of related to it in a sense. That kind of artist being frustrated, people kind of not appreciating what you do. I think as actors we’ve all been through that frustration where you’ve been out of work and knowing you have something in you but no one else can see it.”

One of the things that sets the stage for City Rats is that it takes place on the summer solstice. Director Steve Kelly discussed that aspect of the film and how it factored in to the characters’ stories, “It’s set on the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year. Full moon. It’s a really strange time where more suicides, more instances of violence, more instances of hospitalization, everything takes place – it’s a very heightened environment. We chose to set it on a very hot, clammy day. So the actors had to be sweated up because you know London is never really that warm. We were really trying to get a grimy look where people were, almost, even before they’d started, being pushed to the edge of where they were at. You get moments in your life where it’s a defining moment. You know if you don’t take that moment, that moment could be gone forever. You don’t get the chance to move on or exercise the ghost inside you. And all these characters, you almost feel like they’re losing their souls and they’re desperately reaching out to somebody else, to try and give them a reason to live. And some do, and some don’t.”

The film doesn’t follow the traditional format you normally find in most movies with your basic beginning, middle and end. It’s more like a slice out of these people’s lives. All of the characters are going through their own turmoil and trying to figure out how to manage it. This could make the film a challenge for some people, if they’re normally more comfortable with the typical story-telling format found in most movies. “We’re not going to do the classic three act structure,” Director Steve Kelly said, “We want people to work at the movie because it engages you. If I work at a movie, I love it, I’m engaged with it. I’m asked to use my imagination. You read a book, it’s your imagination. When you see a film, you’re spoon fed. Now, I love spoon fed movies as well, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that. We knew we were breaking all the rules and we knew that there were risks in doing it. We were prepared as experimental filmmakers to have a go and we kind of felt with the actors we had, we made some great statements.”

While the acting and the storytelling are both fantastic in this film, one of the things that stood out most to me was how beautifully it’s shot. The film manages to capture London in a way that is dark and edgy, while also more unique and in some ways, visually stunning than what you might find in some bigger budget films set in the city. I asked Steve Kelly and the film’s screenwriter, Simon Fantauzzo about this. Both became very animated when I brought the subject up. Apparently, filming in London can be quite a challenge. Like with many other major cities, it can be difficult to get the right permissions to film in different parts of the city. Specifically, they discussed the challenges involved in filming at Trafalgar Square. Apparently, you can’t feed the pigeons there anymore. Because there’s a scene in the film involving pigeons, they had to be sneaky about getting the shots they wanted.

While it seems like it was quite challenging for Kelly and Fantauzzo to get the film made the way they wanted it, both seemed to be in agreement that the challenges posed to them in terms of filming in London were a benefit to the film in the end. Fantauzzo commented on Kelly’s direction in this regard, saying, “I think what Steve did as well, with the way he filmed it, guerilla style, it gave us that essence of London that I don’t think we would have had in that kind of way if we would have always had the permissions.” Kelly went on to talk about trying to use what they did have to their advantage, turning vice into virtue and making it work for what they were trying to bring out in the movie, “With low budget filmmaking, that’s what you do.”

City Rats is a darker movie that probably won’t appeal to everyone. That said, I think some people are going to absolutely love it. It’s a very human piece that people will either be able to connect to on an emotional level, or not.

Below is the official trailer for the film, along with photos of the cast:

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