Published 8:44 PM EDT Sep 12, 2018
"Rodents of Unusual Size" takes its name from the giant killer rat-like creatures depicted in the fairy tale "The Princess Bride." But the documentary depicts real 20-pound-plus rodents, called nutria, that have large, rat-like tails.
The invasive species known as swamp rats, imported from South America in the 1930s for its pelt, is destroying the Louisiana wetlands with its voracious appetite and prolific breeding. (Females can reach sexual maturity as soon as three months, and are capable of producing two litters and being pregnant with a third in one year.)
Watching "Rodents" (opening Friday in Los Angeles before rolling out across the nation) can get gnarly for those with giant rat phobias. Here are the five grossest parts.
1. So many nutria, and many dead rodents.
The nutria are everywhere in the Louisiana swamps, devouring vegetation. The film follows locals on Delacroix Island taking to airboats with rifles to shoot the creatures like fish in a barrel.
The nutria were so omnipresent that it was shocking for Jeff Springer, who directed "Rodents" with Chris Metzler and Quinn Costello.
"It was the sheer numbers of them, and you can see them everywhere on the landscape. It was surprising," Springer tells USA TODAY. "And there's this armada of boats with people just killing them left and right. It was carnage, breathtaking. We tried to keep that to a minimum in the film."
2. The frozen, giant rat-tail bounty is bloody disgusting.
The state of Louisiana pays hunters $5 for each nutria killed, with the severed tail serving as proof for the bounty. "Rodents" features shots of nutria carcasses piled in boats and pickup trucks. But the hardest shots to see are the frozen, clumped-up and bloody tails collected and turned in for payment.
3. The rodents are hitting cities and going up toilets.
"Rodents" follows nutria control specialist Michael Beran, who handles the grim task of trapping the nutria in New Orleans canals: There's a gruesome moment under a bridge as he pulls out a dead nutria. Beran notes on camera that nutria are spreading out into the city and predicts, "There is going to be more human-nutria conflict."
He's also seeing an uptick in nutria making their way up the sewers and into people's toilets. Nice.
4. People aren’t happy (at first) about eating them.
Given their vegetarian diet, nutria actually make for a lean and clean meat. Local celebrity chefs like Susan Spicer have experimented with nutria meals in an effort to create a market.
Spicer admits in the documentary that it “freaks the staff out” to see nutria in the kitchen, but adds that “it doesn’t have a really bad, swampy taste." Still, it can be a hard sell for first-timers.
“People couldn’t get over the idea of eating something that looks like a large rat," she says.
One gags onscreen at the very concept of eating nutria.
5. The rodents get a close up.
The filmmakers feature nutria up close and personal, getting right in on those sharp orange teeth. The close-ups come courtesy of a trained movie animal, Nooty the Nutria.
The animals can be domesticated as pets and some folks feed them in the wild.
Says one golf course resident who feeds a rodent family, "Sure enough, they were crawling over all over me to get the carrot."