The grief over losing a loved one affects us in ways we can’t possibly imagine until it occurs...
...How we respond. Who we become. There’s a terror in that unknowable and inevitable change, one which director Daina Reid (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) pulls from the darkness in her deeply uncomfortable new film out of Australia, Run Rabbit Run, which just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Written by Hannah Kent, the film follows Sarah (Sarah Snook), a fertility doctor who has just lost her father. Left alone with her daughter, Mia (Lily LaTorre), Sarah struggles to keep it together in front of the young girl. But when Mia begins acting like Sarah’s long-since-vanished sister, Alice, and demanding she be called by that name, that struggle turns to horror as the past reaches into the present and she is left to wonder if her daughter is only pretending, or if she is truly possessed.
Coated in shades of The Babadook—another Australian horror--Run Rabbit Run is nothing we haven’t seen before. Here we have another mother dealing with a traumatic death while desperately trying to contain their increasingly aggressive child as they transition into more and more of a hellion. The desert road which the film takes us running down is one paved with familiar tropes all leading to an unsurprising destination. Yet for all of its familiarity or reliance on classic conventions, Reid’s film is a well-crafted—albeit underwhelming—haunter. I only wish it did more to separate itself from its influences rather than wear the skin of them.
Yet it isn’t often that a film has me squirming as uncomfortably as Run Rabbit Run. Not because of gross gore or nightmarish imagery, but because the dread creeping throughout the film is so all-consuming. Mark Bradshaw and Marcus Whale’s sinister score, along with the constant howling of an eerie wind lurking in the background like passing ghosts, sets a mood for this atmospheric chiller which devours the viewer whole like the helpless prey we are. Everywhere our characters go, it feels as if something is hiding in the dark corners of the frame, lapping up Sarah’s fear with a slimy tongue. That’s a result of Reid’s methodical direction. The director rarely seems in a hurry, instead allowing the camera to creep and crawl through the scene, occasionally lingering on a shadowy space just long enough to make us think we see something. Maybe we do.
Contributing to that uneasy sensation is an intense performance from Snook that puts the actress through the ringer. Exploring the perils of single parenthood that come with all the pressure of raising a child under already difficult circumstances, Run Rabbit Run takes those challenging moments of a kid who won’t listen to reason and turns them all the way up to eleven. Sarah is a woman already on the edge when the film begins, so when Mia starts demanding to be called the name of her long-lost sister, it becomes the nudge over the cliff for this reeling mother. Reid keeps the emotional dial turned up, which can overwhelm and even detach the viewer a bit, but it allows us to step into the shoes of Sarah and feel every ounce of her growing frustration towards Mia. That’s an unpleasant place to be, trapped somewhere between anger and fear as she begins to suspect her daughter may in fact be possessed.
On that note, Run Rabbit Run is an upsetting experience involving child abuse which will certainly be triggering for some while testing others. I wouldn’t blame you if these instances turn you off the film or read as shock over substance. I myself am weary of horror films that portray single mothers as unstable. But it’s all part of Reid’s effort to convey the horror of a parent losing control.
Reid uses a (possible) haunting to express the fear a parent has that they will lose their relationship with their children. While Sarah reels in terror over the suspicion that Alice has invaded Mia’s body, the possession works as a metaphor for her worry that her daughter will abandon her just as she abandoned her own mother. The director employs wider and wider shots of the pair as they interact, implying a growing distance between the two that has left them unable to reach each other despite only being inches apart at times. Terrible drawings. The all-too creepy bunny mask which Mia begins hiding behind. All of it speaks to the change in a child after encountering death and the uneasy sensation that they’ll never be the innocent darling they were before.
Run Rabbit Run plays like a grave being slowly dug up, layer of dirt after layer of dirt. An intimate psychological horror film, it peels back the wrapping of family trauma and the darkness that lies within in an increasingly disturbing manner. Filled with decent jump scares and an overwhelming dread, the film may be clichéd, but it’s a well-crafted one at that. The plot will likely leave you cold since it's mostly vibes poured over weak storytelling, but those that like their horror open-ended and are up for a whole lot of discomfort should find something to appreciate with Reid’s ultimately unnerving chiller.
By Matt Konopka