Of Unknown Origin

(George Pan Cosmatos, Canada, 1983)


“The problem is, you spend ten per cent of your time thinking about this rat, but he spends one-hundred per cent of his time figuring out how to outsmart you.”


That is the simple but chilling premise which propels this intriguing, barely-known Canadian horror-thriller about a stressed businessman, Bart (Peter Weller), who becomes utterly obsessed with the wily little rodent that inhabits his carefully self-renovated home.


The rat is no supernatural monster – and Bart is no hero. Director George Pan Cosmatos [1941-2005, maker of several Sylvester Stallone action movies, and father of Panos Cosmatos of Mandy (2018) fame] reduces them both to their most basic, instinctual level as they stalk each other around a progressively demolished domestic space.


Little by little – as Bart becomes a twitching wreck, ludicrously swinging a baseball bat at anything that moves – we are shown the fantastic network of holes and passageways that this resourceful rat has eaten away for himself.


High art is full of tales of relentless obsession, descent into madness, and strange conflicts between humans and inhuman beings or even inanimate but pesky objects – think of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), or Elias Canetti’s extraordinary 1935 novel Auto-da-Fé (which, incredibly, has never been filmed). They tend to be thick with semantic suggestiveness and the trappings of allegory.


The fascination of Cosmatos’ B movie, however, lies in the way it strips the story of any meaningfulness or symbolism whatsoever, remaining doggedly literal from start to finish.


That makes it a queerly compelling, intensely physical film.

© Adrian Martin October 1990

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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