Welcome to a nature documentary that may test the limits for even the most devoted animal lover.
It may not be exactly accurate to call Rodents of Unusual Size a nature doc, but it is about a rarified breed of animal that seems to love the state of Louisiana, even if the state doesn’t always love them back. The beaver-sized, rat-tailed, orange-toothed nutria seem to thrive along coastal wetlands by devouring the landscape, which in turn is putting the very existence of the human population in danger. As if Louisiana didn’t have enough to worry about, this impressive film tracks the nutria’s journey from South America into the Gulf Coast, where they continue to multiply at such a rate that hunters and trappers can’t keep up.
Like many things that have attempted to destroy them over the years, Louisiana residents have resigned themselves to even attempting to make peace and even embrace the nutria as a part of local culture. Certain high school sports teams have adopted them as their mascots, there are street fair contests to see who can skin a nutria fastest, and the creatures have even worked their way into the local cuisine (it seems the jury is still out on whether they are tasty or not). Some have made them pets, while most acknowledge that they can be aggressive and dangerous when provoked.
One of the film’s primary subjects is a bounty hunter who is paid by the tail—an incentive for fishermen and other hunters to seek out the grotesque animals in large numbers—and based on the volume of killing we see in the film, it doesn’t seem that difficult to capture and kill them once you find out where they’re living.
Filmmakers Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer have not only captured the patterns and lifestyle of the nutria, but they have done an impressive job profiling the way the community has reacted to this environmental threat—one made all the worse by a certain manmade problem called global warming. Rodents of Unusual Size is part cautionary tale, part comedy, part horror film, and part folksy yarn about a local pest whose existence could have lasting consequences. Overall, it’s certainly a memorable experience—one that might actually have you feeling sorry for the furry buggers…or give you nightmares about running into them in a dark swamp.
The films opens today for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.
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