Director Talks: Petri Kotwica talks “Rat King”
Petri Kotwica is a Finnish film director and screenwriter, best known for his feature film directorial efforts in Black Ice (2007) and Homesickness (2005).
This year, Kotwica’s feature film title Rat King (2012) was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival Cinemania section which offers a small selection of thrilling, largely international, narrative films.
Rat King tells the story of Juri, a hardcore gamer who is always looking for the next virtual challenge. One day he loses track of his online gaming friends Mordred and Jossi, and stumbles his way into the most sinister game he’ll ever play.
We met with Kotwica to get inside the thrilling tale of Rat King and see where the inspirations for the subjects, characters, and genre came from.
Q: I greatly enjoyed Rat King, first as a thriller and second as a film that uses video gaming as a core subject matter. Do you play many video games/know any gamers that may have been the inspiration for Juri or Niki?
A: My very own son was. It’s been a while since I was a gamer myself – I think that was 15 years ago or something (laughing). I observed my son. I’m a weekend father so I didn’t have a daily window into this but at some point I realized he plays way too much. Now he’s 17 and he like’s girls (laughing).
Q: When Juri loses track of his gaming partners he falls into a repressed state and becomes almost dead to the world. Was video gaming as an addiction the source of his fallout?
A: I think this can happen when you take any addiction too far. I’m a son of an alcoholic. I find all of this is a metaphor for any addiction that gets you into trouble. Your social relationships suffer and you don’t get your job done – you neglect others. You become alien and are not in reality any more.
Q: Watching Rat King made me think of your film Black Ice and the undercurrents of tension that surround one character infiltrating the life of another under false pretenses – but unlike Black Ice’s protagonist we can never be sure until the end exactly what Niki’s intensions are and in a way we even trust him as Juri’s savior: was that your intention?
A: Absolutely. I had a very different agenda here. In Black Ice the most important thing for me was that I break the traditional way we think of protagonist and antagonist – they sort of switch places there. It’s obvious that the other woman is treated like an antagonist in most stories like this – if you think of Single White Female or Fatal Attraction in this case.
So I wanted to show that she did nothing wrong until the lies start to escalate. But here I wanted to build and serve the suspense. I tried to balance the metaphorical level that this is all happening in someone’s busy mind. I also found out, of course, that some people love the film because of the ambiguity and some might want to see it more realistic.
Q: Video gaming is sometimes seen as a breeding ground for violent behavior and repression. Were you playing at any of that with Niki’s actions or Juri’s social status?
A: Absolutely but the thing is I think that regarding violent behavior, video games are a good way to get out those feelings – like boxing or taekwondo. It’s only when you lose your sense of what is real and what is not, in that case it’s a sad thing that what you have the most experience of after 15 or 20 years is to walk into a place and shoot as many people as possible. This is something almost politically incorrect to implicate at any level. I love video games and I admire the way they are created and the way they look (if I had time I would probably try to be a better gamer myself). I can see a danger though, if you sink into it.
Q: I was amazed that Juri was written to have a girlfriend, given his gaming addiction. She ends up being a significant part in his revelation about Niki and his heroic action toward the end, but was she significant to your vision of Juri as a character?
A: (laughing) Yes I wanted to catch him completely in the moment, but I can see why you’d be surprised by that.
Q: You’re no stranger to award winning filmmaking. Did you intend to add something new to the thriller drama with Rat King to set it apart from the many others that address similar subjects?
A: No. I started this from an idea that, my first thought was to make quite a realistic film. It just so happened – I got this idea 4 years ago or something – the next year we had our first school shootings in Finland, two of them in one year. I wanted to distance everything from that because that would simply not be right. It would put a great deal of pain in the hearts of Finnish people. We filmed this in Estonia; we did not film in Finland, for other reasons as well but also for this reason.
But, I’m very fond of watching good thrillers so I really didn’t want to change much. I would like to balance somewhere between drama and thriller – a thriller with a very strong drama base, that would be great. At some point I would also love to do a comedy thriller as well (laughing).
Q: Do you have any new projects in the works?
A: I’m working on a thriller which goes more to the type of thriller that Black Ice was. From that it’s closer to a thriller than a drama.
Q: So, no comedy thriller just yet?
A: Oh, no! I wouldn’t know how to write it, I’ll have to let someone else try it first.