★★ / ★★★★
Luke Shanahan’s ambitious but undercooked debut film “Rabbit” is one of those movies that’s near impossible to talk about completely, should one choose to be mindful of providing spoilers, given that it pivots so out of left-field just about halfway through. It begins as a seemingly ordinary abduction story. A desperate woman (Adelaide Clemens) sprints through the woods and hooded figures in black stalk her. She is captured and we cut to her twin, Maude (also played by Clemens), who is living overseas as a medical student. Maude suspects that something is wrong. However, this is not the kicker.
Maude and her family are already aware that Cleo has gone missing. Enough time has passed that their parents decided to hold a funeral for their daughter. As the picture goes through the expository sequences, there is a constant foreboding feeling that something is going to go awry at any moment. There is expert use of silence, from Maude being picked up by her sister’s fiancé, Ralph (Alex Russell) at the airport to the extremely uncomfortable dinner with her parents. The father remains angry due to the fact that Maude refused to attend Cleo’s funeral. The silence is so heavy and emotions are so stifled that we actually hear the cutlery scraping the plate. It is incredibly sad to look at what this family has been reduced to.
Meanwhile, Maude’s nightmares are intensifying to the point where she begins to believe that the images in her head are visions of what is actually happening to her twin in real time. This is the point when Clemens truly shines. I appreciated that there is a precise but subtle moment when the character realizes she needs to act quickly if she were to have a chance of rescuing her sister. Clemens possesses a vulnerability and a determination about her just underneath desperation. I watched her sometimes convinced that Maude is a ticking time bomb. She, along with Ralph the fiancé, visit the backwoods where Cleo was last seen.
The screenplay gently takes our hand then violently pulls us into a remote forest where a poor community resides. It employs the usual creepy images, from the glaring rural folks who look unkempt and unwashed to beautiful wide shots of dominating pine trees that seem to stretch for miles. It is communicated to us that once an outsider steps on this land, escaping becomes near impossible. But there has to be a reason why Maude is the heroine… right? Surely she must be an exception.
Doubt is cast right from the moment the screen is filled with a red title card. No text. No other color. Just blood red and the screeching score that brings to mind a descent into a rabbit hole. I refuse to reveal anything beyond this point. But I will say this: I admired its willingness to deliver something different—less overt scares and more… increasingly alarming situations. The introduction of the second half is like a veil slowly being lifted from our faces. It is not always effective. But it sure is fascinating.
I felt great disappointment with this picture’s denouement. After having learned of everything that transpires in the community, viewers have worked up so much anger that we demand catharsis for the countless inhumane punishments the characters have endured. (No, it does not involve in-your-face torture scenes. Plenty is left for the imagination.) We deserve a release of emotions, to feel that the long journey is worthwhile. But the writer-director chooses to withhold. It is a curious choice; perhaps this avenue is taken to avoid cliché. But the final ten to fifteen minutes just does not feel right. There is a way to be ambiguous without us being hung out to dry.