Bart (Peter Weller) is an average businessman. When his wife Meg (Shannon Tweed) and their son (Leif Anderson) go on a trip to visit relatives, he’s left alone—until a rat shows up. He tries multiple methods to get rid of it, but since the animal is some kind of evil rat genius, poison, traps, and even a cat fail to deter it. It comes down to a battle of wills between Bart and his unwelcome guest.
I disliked Of Unknown Origin the first time I saw it as a teenager, when I had rats as pets. I was highly offended at the negative portrayal of them (and the annoying high-pitched squeals rats always make in movies that sound nothing like an actual rat). I felt differently when I watched it recently, now that I‘m more capable of seeing the finer points of the movie. And though I still like rats, I have to admit they’re smelly and pee constantly. On my second viewing, I really liked Bart. He’s established right away as a loving husband and father (which has become more important to me after having a child of my own), and he’s also fairly chipper through the whole ordeal, even as he becomes wildly unstable.
There seems to be a theme of Bart becoming a modern primitive. He goes from privileged businessman who renovated his own house to loony destroyer of said house, reversing his years of training as a civilized person. The rat not only breaks down his mind, it destroys his stuff, his wealth—it even puts his job in danger as Bart’s behavior becomes more erratic. The film may be suggesting that he has grown too soft and complacent to battle the rat effectively until he loses touch with his old way of life.
It’s a lot more dramatic than scary, though there are some creepy moments, like a close-up shot of the rat’s eyes. It does present the notion that “A rat is a survivor”—it’s very hard to kill. It’s also an eating machine, gnawing a trap and even a cat. It’s a tense watch, as we can never tell what Bart will do next, or what new fiendishness the rat can come up with. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a villain that’s debatably kinda cute.