Life is horrible, and there’s no escape except the ultimate one — that about sums up writer/director Lynne Ramsay’s feature debut, Ratcatcher. A young boy drowns in the cruddy, sickly canal that wends its way through rundown council flats in mid 1970s Glasgow; 12-year-old James (William Eadie) secretly witnessed it, and now he’s haunted by the tragedy. Da (Tommy Flanagan: Gladiator) is an unemployed drinker, and Ma (Mandy Matthews) is busy trying to ensure the survival of her family, which leaves James to fend for himself. A lazy, stream-of-consciousness exploration of James’s unpleasant world and the fantasies that offer momentary diversion, this is often a stunningly, grimly beautiful film, but one that leaves a bitter aftertaste. It’s hard to feel too sympathetic for parents who leave their kids to play in the mounds of refuse piled up during a garbage strike, or playing with the bodies rats they beat to death — and it’s hard not to picture James as one of those rats, scurrying through life, trying to keep his head down, and not succeeding. This is a world that turns people hard and cruel even as children, and though James manages to retain his gentleness, it’s that sensitivity that dooms him. Ratcatcher‘s tragic irony is that a cold outer shell is a necessity in a world like James’s — without it, life is unendurable. Bummer, huh?