The remake comes from the directing-writing-producing team of Glen Morgan and James Wong. Morgan and Wong started out writing episodes of various Chris Carter series such as The X Files (1993-2002) and Millennium (1996-9), before going onto to create the great tv series Space: Above and Beyond (1995-6). Wong and Morgan then broke out into film, making the likes of Final Destination (2000), The One (2001) and the subsequent Final Destination 3 (2006), the remake of Black Christmas (2006). Willard was their third film, the first in which Morgan rather than Wong took the directors chair. After these, they appeared to part ways with James Wong going on to direct Dragonball: Evolution (2009), produce the tv series The Event (2010-1), American Horror Story (2011 ) and Scream Queens (2015 ) and to write the tv mini-series remake of Rosemarys Baby (2014) without Morgan, while Glen Morgan on his own subsequently signed on as a producer of tvs Bionic Woman (2007), Tower Prep (2010), The River (2012) and Intruders (2014).
Morgan and Wongs scripts for The X Files and Millennium were among some of the very best of either series, while Space: Above and Beyond was a series that ended well before its time. Alas, the intelligence of their tv work is something that Wong and Morgan have never been able to translate to their films, all of which have been flat both in conception and delivery. Willard is an equal disappointment. The original Willard worked through the horror of seeing rats on the move and in the conviction engendered by Bruce Davisons performance. However, the film here lacks a basic credibility. For some reason, Wong and Morgan set the remake in a highly stylised modern equivalent of a 1940s film noir milieu the score is all chopping strings like it had been sampled from an Alfred Hitchcock film, while the house and costumes are like something out of an Old Dark House thriller. Everything is caricatured from the emotions engendered to the setting and R. Lee Ermeys villainy.
Most caricatured of all is Crispin Glovers performance as Willard. Crispin Glover is all bony, angular physique and intensely introverted and withdrawn body language. Indeed, Glover looks like he had not changed either in performance or clothing from his bad guy role in Charlies Angels (2000). It is a performance that comes across as creepy and lacks any of the boyishly warm charisma that Bruce Davison brought to the part in his outing. It is also a performance that lacks the innocence of Davisons Morgan and Wong seem to have little sympathy for Willard and Crispin Glover plays the part much nastier than Bruce Davison ever did. The scenes where Willard loses it in fits of histrionics contain some ludicrously over-the-top acting upon Glovers part.
Wong and Morgan also have a tendency to be cutely self-referential in their films. In this version, we see several pictures of Willards late father which turn out to be photos of a now middle-aged Bruce Davison; when the rats pursue the cat, it inadvertently lands on a remote and turns on the Easy Listening tv channel, which is playing the Michael Jackson theme song from Ben; the cat itself is named Scully in an obvious reference to The X Files; and there is an asylum fadeout that has been directly copied from Psycho (1960). There are numerous ratty references Three Blind Mice plays on the soundtrack; R. Lee Ermey has a speech referring to the rat race: Business is a rat race. I will not allow myself to be devoured by all those other rats because of you; and the inevitable visual pun where a computer mouse is replaced by a real mouse. It is cute and vaguely amusing but it is also makes for a film that tip its audience off that it is a remake in a very self-aware way, such that you never suspend your disbelief to absorb oneself in the drama. One wishes Morgan and Wong would go back and recapture some of the conceptual joy and standout characterisation that marked their tv work.