The Rat Catcher (2023) Movie Script

From the short story by
[bell tolling in the distance]
In the afternoon,
the rat man came to the petrol station.
He sidled up the driveway
with a soft, stealthy gait.
His feet made no noise at all
on the gravel.
He had an army knapsack
slung over one shoulder.
He wore an old-fashioned corduroy jacket
with large pockets.
Corduroy trousers were tied around
the knees with lengths of white string.
- Hello?
- Yes?
Rodent operative.
His small, dark eyes
moved swiftly over the premises.
- The rat man?
- That's me.
He was lean, leathery, a sharp face,
two long, sulfur-yellow teeth
protruding from the upper jaw
over the lower lip.
His ears were round and thin,
set near the back of his head.
The eyes were almost black,
but when they looked at you,
there was a flash of yellow in them.
- You've come quick.
- Special orders from the Health Office.
And now
you're going to catch all the rats?
- Yeah.
- How?
Yes. How?
Depends what rats, where they is.
Different methods for different rats.
- Trap them, I suppose.
- What?
- Trap 'em.
- Trap 'em?
The rat man snorted.
Won't catch 'em that way.
Rats ain't rabbits.
He held his face up high,
sniffing the air with a nose that
twitched perceptibly from side to side.
Rats is clever. You wanna catch 'em,
you gotta know 'em.
You gotta know rats on this job.
You know what they do? They watch you.
Whole time you're preparin'
how to exterminate 'em,
they're watchin' you.
This ain't a sewer job, is it?
No, it's not a sewer job.
- Tricky things, sewer jobs.
- I shouldn't think so.
You shouldn't, should you?
I'd like to see you do a sewer job.
Just exactly how'd you set about it,
I'd like to know.
Poison them, I suppose.
And where exactly
would you put the poison?
Down the sewer?
The rat man sparkled, triumphant.
Yeah, I knew it. "Down the sewer."
Know what'd happen?
Get washed away completely.
All your poison. Sewer's like a river.
All right. Well, what would you do,
Mr. Rat Man? On a sewer job?
The rat man advanced a step closer.
His voice became secretive
and confidential,
the voice of a man
divulging professional secrets.
You works on the understandin'
a rat is a gnawin' animal, see?
Anythin' you give 'em, they gnaws on it.
So you got a sewer job on your hands.
What d'you do?
His voice had the soft,
throaty sound of a croaking frog,
and he seemed to speak all his words
with a wet-lipped relish,
as if they tasted good on the tongue.
You go down the sewer
and you take along
some ordinary brown paper bags
filled with plaster of paris powder.
Nothin' else.
Then you suspend 'em
from the roof of the sewer
so they hangs down
not quite touchin' the water.
Just high enough so a rat can reach 'em.
Claud was listening, rapt.
Old rat comes swimmin' along the sewer,
sees the bag. He stops.
[sniffs] Takes a sniff at it.
It don't smell so bad.
- What's he do?
- He gnaws it.
That's it! He starts gnawin' at the bag,
and the bag breaks,
and the old rat
gets a mouthful of powder for his pains.
Well, that does him.
- That kills him?
- Stone dead.
- Plaster of paris
- It swells when you wet it.
Gets into the rat's tubes
and swells right up
and kills him
quicker than anythin' in the world.
That's where you got to know rats.
His face glowed with a shifty pride.
He rubbed his stringy fingers together,
holding the hands up close to his face.
Now, where's them rats?
The word "rats" came out
with a rich, fruity sound
as if he were gargling with melted butter.
In the hayrick across the road.
- Not inside?
- Only in the hayrick. Nowhere else.
I'll wager they're inside too,
gettin' in your food, spreadin' disease.
- Got any sickness here?
- He looked pointedly at me, then at Claud.
- Everyone's well.
- Quite sure?
- Quite sure.
- You never know.
He'd taken upon himself
the mantle of a public health officer,
disappointed we were not suffering
from bubonic plague.
Nevertheless, the rats are in the hayrick.
How will you remove them?
The rat man grinned a crafty, toothy grin.
He reached into his knapsack
and withdrew a large tin,
weighing it up and down
in his hands as he spoke.
Poison. Special poison. Deadly poison.
They'd put you inside if they caught you
with even a spoonful of this.
There's enough here to kill a million men.
- Want to see?
- Yes, please.
He took a penny and prized open the lid.
There it is.
He spoke almost lovingly of the stuff
and held it forward for Claud.
[Claud] Corn or barley, is it?
Oats. Oats soaked in deadly poison.
You take just one grain in your mouth
and you're a goner in three minutes.
Never out of me sight, this tin.
[editor] He caressed the tin and shook it
- [rat man mimics rattle]
- so the oat grains rustled softly inside.
But your rats don't get this today.
They wouldn't have it, anyway.
That's where you got to know rats.
Rats is suspicious. Terrible suspicious.
So today they get
some nice, clean, tasty oats
as will do 'em no harm in the world.
Fatten 'em up, that's all.
And tomorrow, the same again.
And the day after that,
and the day after that.
And it'll taste so good,
all the rats in the district
will be comin' along soon enough.
Very clever.
You got to be clever on this job,
cleverer than a rat.
And that's saying something.
"You've almost got to be a rat yourself."
It slipped out before I could stop myself.
I couldn't help it,
I was looking at him at the time.
The effect it had on him was surprising.
- That's it!
- he cried.
Now you got it, you really said somethin'.
A good ratter's gotta be
more like a rat than anythin' else.
Cleverer even than a rat,
and that is not an easy thing to be,
let me tell you.
Well, let's get on with it.
Lady Leonora Benson's
asking for me urgent up at the manor.
She's got rats too?
Everybody's got rats.
The rat man ambled off down the driveway.
The way he walked was so like a rat,
it made you wonder.
That slow, almost delicate, ambling walk
with a lot of give at the knees
and no sound at all
from his footsteps on the gravel.
He hopped over the gate,
and walked quickly 'round the hayrick,
scattering handfuls of oats
onto the ground.
The next day he returned
and repeated the procedure.
The day after that he came again,
and the day after that,
and finally, on the fourth day,
he put down the poisoned oats.
But he didn't scatter these.
Instead, he placed them in little piles
at each corner of the hayrick.
- You got a dog?
- [Claud] Yes.
Well, if you want him to die a horrible,
twisting death, let him in that gate.
The next day he came to collect the dead.
Get me an old sack.
I'm gonna need one to put 'em in.
He was puffed up and important now,
the black eyes gleaming with pride.
He was about to display
the results of his catch to the audience.
Claud fetched a sack
and we walked across the road.
The rat man prowled around the hayrick,
bending over to inspect
one of his piles of poison.
- Something wrong here.
- he muttered.
His voice was soft and angry.
He ambled over to another pile
and got down to examine it closely.
- Something wrong here.
- [Claud] What's the matter?
He didn't answer, but it was clear
the rats hadn't touched his bait.
"These are very clever rats here," I said.
The rat man was annoyed
and showed it on his face and nose
and by the way the two yellow teeth
were pressing into his lower lip.
- Don't give me that crap.
- he said, looking at me.
Nothing's wrong with these rats,
somebody's feedin' 'em.
They got somethin' juicy
to eat somewhere, plenty of it.
No rats in the world will turn down oats
unless their bellies is full to burstin'.
The rat man turned away, sullen.
He knelt down again scooping up
the poisoned oats with a small shovel,
tipping it carefully back into a tin.
When he had finished, all three of us
walked back across the road.
The rat man stood by the petrol-pump,
a rather sorry, humble rat man now
whose face was beginning
to take on a brooding aspect.
He had withdrawn into himself
over his failure,
the eyes veiled and wicked,
the little tongue darting out
to one side of the two yellow teeth.
He looked up at me,
a surreptitious glance,
then over at Claud.
His nose-end twitched, sniffing the air.
He raised himself up and down
on his toes, swaying gently,
and in a soft voice,
soft and secretive, he said
You want to see something?
He was trying to retrieve his reputation.
- What?
- You want to see something amazing?
He put his right hand
into the poacher's pocket of his jacket
and brought out a large, live rat
clasped tight between his fingers.
Good God!
[chuckles] That's it. You see?
He was crouching slightly
and craning his neck forward
and leering at us and holding
this enormous brown rat,
one finger and thumb making
a tight circle around its neck,
clamping its head
so it couldn't turn and bite.
Do you go around
with rats in your pockets?
Always a rat or two about me somewhere.
He put his free hand into the other pocket
and produced a small, white
- Is that a ferret?
- The rat man snickered, hissing.
The ferret seemed to know him
and stayed still.
Nothing will kill a rat
quicker than a ferret.
He held the two animals
close in front of him
so the ferret's nose
came within six inches of the rat's face.
The pink beady eyes of the ferret
stared at the rat.
The rat struggled,
trying to edge away from the killer.
- Now.
- he said.
[editor] His khaki shirt
was open at the neck,
and he lifted the rat
and slipped it down inside,
next to his skin.
His belt prevented the rat
from going lower than his waist.
He slipped the ferret in next.
Immediately, there was
a great commotion inside the shirt.
It appeared the rat was running around
his body, chased by the ferret.
Six or seven times they went around,
the small bulge chasing the larger one,
gaining on it slightly each circuit,
drawing closer and closer
until at last the two bulges
seemed to come together,
and there was a scuffle
and a series of shrill shrieks.
Throughout this performance,
the rat man stood absolutely still,
legs apart, arms hanging loosely,
dark eyes resting calmly
on Claud's frozen face.
Finally, he took his hand
and reached down into his shirt
and pulled out the ferret.
With the other, he took out the dead rat.
There were traces of blood
around the white muzzle of the ferret.
"Not sure I liked that very much," I said.
You never seen nothin' like it before,
I'll bet you that.
Can't say I have.
You'll get a nasty nip
in the guts one of these days.
Claud told him, but was intrigued,
and the rat man was becoming cocky again.
You want to see something
far more amazing?
Something you'd never believe unless
you're seeing it with your own eyes?
I glanced at Claud
more than slightly apprehensive.
The rat man slipped
the dead rat into one pocket
and the ferret into the other.
Then he reached into his knapsack
and produced a second live rat.
Holy Christ!
Always got one or two rats
about me somewhere.
You got to know rats on this job,
and if you wanna know 'em
you gotta have 'em around.
This is a sewer rat, this one.
An old sewer rat, clever as buggery.
See him watchin' me all the time,
wonderin' what I'm gonna do next?
- See him?
- Most unpleasant.
"What will you do?"
I had a feeling I'd like
this demonstration less than the last one.
- Fetch me a piece of string.
- Claud fetched a piece of string.
The rat man
looped it around the rat's hind leg.
The rat struggled,
but the rat man held it tight.
Now, you got a table inside?
"We don't want the rat inside," I said.
Well, I need a table.
Or somethin' flat, anyway.
We walked over to the petrol-pump
and he put the sewer rat on top.
He attached the string to a post
so the rat was now tethered.
At first, it crouched,
unmoving and suspicious,
a big-bodied gray rat
with bright black eyes
and a scaly tail that lay in a long curl
on the metal surface.
It was looking away,
but watching him sideways
to see what he was going to do.
The rat man stepped back a few paces,
and immediately the rat relaxed.
It sat up on its haunches
and began to lick
the gray fur on its chest.
Then it scratched its muzzle
with both front paws.
It seemed quite unconcerned
about the other men standing nearby.
- How about a little bet?
- [editor] the rat man said.
"No, thank you." I said.
- [rat man] It's more fun if you bet.
- [Claud] What do you want to bet on?
[rat man] I can kill that rat
without using my hands.
I'll put 'em in my pockets
and not use 'em.
[editor] It was apparent the rat man
was out to earn some money.
I looked at the rat that was to be killed
and began to feel sick,
not because it was going to be killed,
but because it was to be killed
in a special way,
with a considerable degree of enthusiasm.
- No arms?
- No arms, no legs, no hands neither.
- You'll sit on it.
- No squashing.
- Let's see it.
- Bet me a quid first.
Don't be bloody daft. Why should we?
- What'll you bet?
- Zero. Nothing.
All right. Then it's a no-go.
- He made as if to untie the string.
- I'll bet a shilling.
The sick sensation in my stomach
was increasing.
But there was an awful magnetism
about this business.
I found myself
unable to walk away or even move.
- You too?
- No.
Want me to do this for a shilling?
- I don't want you to do it.
- Where's the money?
Claud put a shilling on the petrol-pump.
The rat man laid two sixpences
beside Claud's money.
Bet's on.
Claud and I stepped back.
The rat man stepped forward,
put his hands in his pockets
and inclined his body
from the waist toward the rat.
The rat was crouching, alarmed.
It seemed it was preparing
to spring at the rat man,
but then it began to reverse away,
dragging its body backwards
with crouching steps
until the string tautened on its hind leg.
The rat man
leaned further towards the rat,
following it back and forth
with his eyes. Suddenly
- It panicked.
- it panicked and leapt into the air.
The string pulled it up with a jerk
that must've nearly dislocated its leg.
It crouched again at the edge,
as far away as the string would allow,
whiskers quivering,
the long gray body rigid with fear.
At this point, the rat man again
began to move his face very slowly,
closer and closer.
I wanted to cry out for him to stop,
but I couldn't speak.
Something extremely unpleasant
was about to happen, I was sure of that.
Something sinister and cruel,
but I had to see it now.
Not more than the length of a man's hand
was separating the two.
The rat pressed its body flat,
tense and terrified.
The rat man was also tense,
but with a dangerous active tensity
that was like a tight-wound spring.
The shadow of a smile
flickered around the skin of his mouth.
Then, suddenly, he struck,
as a snake strikes,
darting his head forward
with a swift knife-like stroke
that originated in the muscles
of the lower body
[editor] and I had a glimpse
of the mouth opening wide
two yellow teeth
[both] the whole face contorted
by the effort of mouth-opening.
More than that, I did not care to see.
I closed my eyes,
and when I opened them again,
the rat was dead,
the rat man
was slipping the money into his pocket
and spitting to clear his mouth.
And that's what
they makes licorice out of.
Rat's blood's what the big factories
and chocolate-makers use to make licorice.
Nothin' wrong with a drop of rat's blood.
You are absolutely disgusting.
But that's it, you see.
You eaten it many a time.
Penny sticks and licorice bootlaces
all made from rat's blood.
We don't want to hear
another word, thanks.
Boiled up in great cauldrons,
bubblin' and steamin'
and men stirrin' it with long poles.
One of the big secrets
of the chocolate factories,
and no one knows about it,
except the ratters supplyin' the stuff.
Suddenly he noticed his audience
was no longer with him.
Our faces were hostile
and sick-looking and crimson with anger.
He stopped and turned away
without another word.
We watched as he sloped onto the road
with a slow, delicate, ambling walk.
His footsteps didn't make a sound,
not even on the gravel.
[bell tolling in the distance]
The rats never ate the poisoned oats.
There must be
something nutritious in the hayrick.
[wind blowing]