I'm sure the Croatians make perfectly normal movies like the rest of us, but based on what I've seen they seem to be aiming for a lottery, as if to be ranked "Weirdest filmmakers of Yugoslavia". They will not win, only because they have such ardent competition from the rest of the Balkans, but it's admirable to try!
Ivan is an impoverished writer, newly kicked out by his landlord and in search of somewhere to stay. He finds a mysterious old building, seemingly abandoned until he sees a strange gathering commence, of people who are not quite human. He flees, but the authorities don't believe Ivan's story, so he enlists the help of sweet local girl Sonja, and her scientist father, who may know more about this than meets the eye...
Izbavitelj, aka The Rat Saviour is simply described as a Croatian movie about rat-people trying to conquer the world. If that doesn't get you hooked I don't know what will! Does it live up to that concept though? It thankfully dos, in a sense. It treats the concept with an artistic and thematic touch, and while a little bit of goofiness or humour wouldn't have gone astray (you'd kinda need it with a premise this wonderfully silly), it's fine as it is, with a sense of foreboding permeating the movie.
The movie's pace is slow, to the point of being uneventful at times, but it's never boring. I did wish more would happen, but it never felt lacking, just a little .
The last act felt a little unsatisfying to me. Ivan's newfound weapon does kill the paranoia a little, but it is fun seeing him have the upper hand for a change. The villain's death seemed weird and a little anticlimactic, with a line suggesting that there might be more to come, but we're not gonna be seeing it here. All the stuff with the twin Sonja's was a bit confusing, and potentially depressing too, and by the end I wasn't quite sure on a few things. With any luck Ivan hasn't totally spoiled his chances with Sonja!
Izbavitelj is reminiscent of the absurdist play Rhinoceros, which is about a guy and a girl (among others) in a world where people begins turning into rhinos, who try and convince everyone else to join in because being a rhino is so good. Although there are just as many differences, such as no redeeming features for the rat people, and no ambiguity over the two sides.
It also reminded me a little of John Carpenter's They Live, in that both are about lone men uncovering a powerful conspiracy by creatures in disguise as everyday people. In fact there's also a female sidekick with unknown allegiances, and disguises discovered during sex! Quite a few coincidences.
The rats are presented almost as Libertines, having decadent and debauched parties where they stuff food into their gobs and openly bang. What they represent will probably depend on the viewer. To a Yugoslav watching, they might represent Communism (An unstoppable uniform force that a lone individual must fight against), or even the opposite (A bourgeois threat that the proletariat must unite together to fight). To someone without that context they may represent something else entirely, and it'd be interesting showing this to people of a few different countries and asking them what conclusions they reach.
The effects in Izbavitelj are good. While they are mostly in human form, we see the rat people in various stages of transformation, which can range from having weird purple-ish faces and slightly swollen mouths, almost like they've been clobbered, to having rat-teeth poking out, and some are covered in fur. The sex scenes also do not limit themselves to only showing regular people going at it, which is a somewhat nightmarish visual.
The locations here are neat. The lair of the rat people is visually distinctive, from its lived in halls, the scattered papers and bricabrac, to the L-shaped tables. The streets of Croatia look pretty dingy, which some say is an artistic choice, and I certainly hope so! But I kid, Croatians, please don't murder me. I know you were the number 1 tourist destination back then!
The opening credits contain great visuals too, with neat and wonderfully surreal illustrations that complement the movie perfectly. This combines really well with the spooky yet groovy score, with its ambient twangs and creaks, and moody trumpeting.
Ibavitelj is quite an interesting movie. While I didn't find it to be an artistic masterpiece or anything, it's by no means uninteresting, and presents some good ideas, with an atmospheric tone/...
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