Luke Shanahan’s Rabbit is the latest in a long list of films that attempt to explore the connection between twins, which has long been a fascination with filmmakers over the years. Think of it as a classier version of I Know Who Killed Me with a little bit of The Vanishing thrown in for good measure (I’m sure the producers don’t want to think of it that way, but that’s what it is). Despite some pacing issues, Rabbit proves to be a tense showcase for Shanahan, who has crafted an eerie tale in his feature directorial debut.
Almost a year after her identical twin Cleo’s disappearance, medical student Maude (Adelaide Clemens, Silent Hill: Revelation) is still haunted by visions and dreams of her kidnapping by a strange group of people and being held hostage in a remote bunkhouse with seemingly malicious intent. Convinced she is still alive, she teams up with Henry (Jonny Pasvolsky, Westworld), a detective who can’t let the case go, and Cleo’s partner Ralph (Alex Russell, Chronicle) to track down her sister. Their investigation takes them to a derelict caravan park where she uncovers a secret society that may have information on her sister’s whereabouts.
Filled with luscious cinematography (courtesy of Anna Howard), Rabbit is a confident debut from director Luke Shanahan, who also wrote the screenplay. He clearly has an eye for the Australian landscape and how desolate it can be. From the opening shot of Cleo running in the woods (see header image) to the nightmarish hallucinations that Maude suffers, Rabbit frequently feels like a living nightmare. The film isn’t so much frightening as it is unnerving. That Shanahan is able to maintain that feeling throughout the majority of Rabbit’s runtime is a testament to his skills as a director.
A pretty film would be nothing without a compelling lead performance, and Clemens is more than up to the challenge. This is surprising, considering her less-than-stellar performance in Silent Hill: Revelation just five years ago, but she has most certainly honed her craft since then. Portraying the dual roles of Maude and Cleo (with the latter’s screen time primarily restricted to looks of fear and horror), Clemens carries the film from beginning to end. Russell and Pasvolsky are serviceable, but Clemens’ foil comes in the form of Veerle Baetens’ Nerida, a local surgeon and the leader of the mysterious society that Maude discovers. Baetens’ exudes kindness and warmth on the surface, but is able to convey an appropriate level of menace. You’re never quite sure what she’s up to, making it difficult to take your eyes off of her when she is on screen. Her scenes with Clemens are the film’s best.
Michael Darren’s score booms over the film, instilling a sense of dread and paranoia from the first frame. This isn’t a film that builds tension. It is filled with it. You are never certain if what Maude is seeing in her visions is real or if it is just in her mind. Third act revelations will answer those questions, but Rabbit is less about the destination that it is about the journey. The film captivates you, and if the resolution may feel somewhat anticlimactic it’s only because it has done such an excellent job setting up its mystery.
Less patient viewers might find Rabbit difficult to sit through, as the film delves into “style over substance” territory quite often. It is a gorgeous film, but it has a tendency to move at a snail’s pace. Even at a brief 99 minutes, it feels just a little too long. Some tighter editing could have helped the film greatly.
Rabbit may be a bit slow and the story may be lacking in some areas, but a superb lead performance and beautiful cinematography help it to mostly overcome its faults. This does not feel like someone’s first feature, and I look forward to what Shanahan has in store for us next.