Run Rabbit Run
Dir. Daina Reid (2023)
A fertility doctor must confront her past to save her daughter.
There's a lot to be said about the relationship between a mother and daughter. It's a complex connection, one that carries its fair share of love, regret, and, of course, trauma. Examining these relationships is just as complicated, and prying open the Pandora's box of familial strain can be difficult to get right, at least if you're not willing to ruffle a few feathers. Director Daina Reid's Run Rabbit Run, which came out earlier this year on Netflix, attempts to examine an elaborate family history through the eyes of someone whose mental faculties are in near constant decline, trying its best to parrot the themes of trauma, mental illness, and past misdeeds that so many other films have already explored in full.
Sarah (Sarah Snook, fresh off her performance in HBO's stellar Succession) plays mother to 7-year-old Mia (Lily LaTorre), doing her best as a single mother while dealing with a remarried husband who is expecting another child, a recently deceased father, and a mother who she learns has been placed in a facility due to a recent diagnosis of dementia. When Mia finds a white rabbit (which feels a little bit on the nose a bit later), she begins wearing a rabbit mask while going to school and becoming more and more obstinant. As tensions rise and Sarah begins to lose what little grasp on sanity she seemed to have to begin with, Mia begins calling herself Alice, Sarah's sister who went missing at roughly the same age.
Mental illness is the new boogeyman in horror. It's easy to portray nowadays, with the horror audience's growing acceptance of slow-burn, psychological terror, but it's also hugely detrimental to actually making a good film if you don't get it exactly right. Run Rabbit Run struggles largely because its formula has been used so many times before: Toni Collette in Hereditary comes to mind, but she had the brilliance of Ari Aster controlling the film itself to ensure that her great performance didn't go to waste. While director Daina Reid is certainly talented, the film itself is nothing but a vehicle for a good showing by Sarah Snook that never has anything worthwhile to say. The possibility that a character is mentally ill rather than being tormented by the supernatural is simply not enough anymore.
Guilt is certainly something worth exploring in a horror format, and God knows there have been plenty of films that do just that. While Run Rabbit Run does have good reason for its analysis of culpability and emotional damage, it never feels like it commits all the way. We're left with hollow characters who never plumb any real emotional depths, a story that doesn't break free from the pack of films just like it, and performances that ultimately become just debris in a well-shot film with a lackluster story. There are great things about the film, such as cinematographer Bonnie Elliott's beautiful shot selection and Mark Bradshaw and Marcus Whale's haunting and dread-inducing score, but there's just not enough to overcome a story that you've already seen play out at least a half a dozen times before.
It's easy to mistake this for a great movie, however. It really does look and sound great. Technically, the film is a marvel, a Netflix-quality flick that tries to be more than just mass-appeal gibberish. It's not particularly deep, however, and that's necessary for a film like this to succeed. The tension never fully builds, leaving the audience wanting more and finding an ending that feels anything but satisfactory. Nevertheless, the film has good bones and is one that will likely find its fair share of fans. Snook is, indeed, a star, and she does a great job wading through the chaos of a story that ultimately feels incomplete. Even though she was my least favorite character in Succession.
Who this movie is for: Slow-burn horror fans, Psychological horror devotees, Alice in Wonderland fans
Bottom line: Run Rabbit Run is a competently made film. It's beautiful, displaying the gorgeous Australian countryside in all its glory, and the shots of horror as Snook travels between timelines are well crafted. In a film that is largely about familial resemblance, however, it's far too similar to other (better) films that have come before. Despite being filled with great performances that try their best to flesh out the incomplete story being told, the movie just never works enough to be what it perhaps should have been.