Fans of the “I Love You, My Child, But You’re Really Creeping Mommy Out Right Now” sub-genre are in for a treat with Dinah Reid’s “Run Rabbit Run” as well as few other notable, similarly-themed hits. Terrible, from Australia. Indeed, top-hatted shades of the matrilineal mayhem of Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” and Natalia Erica James’ “Relic” — two other debuts by Aussie women premiering in Sundance’s midnight section — loom large here, as do other breakouts like ” Hereditary,” “Goodnight Mummy.” ” even “Orphanage.” Too big, perhaps, for Reed’s film to fully escape its motherhood-is-madness, is-she-defense-or-is-she-project and grief-is-a-ghost concepts.
Yet what it lacks in thematic innovation, “Run Rabbit Run” makes up for in its momentarily wounding sophistication and the performances of Sarah Snook and outstanding newcomer Lily Latour as mother and daughter, respectively. Between them, Reid and screenwriter Hannah Kent make a scary relationship all the more terrifying because we’re never sure if it’s fear or not. of or fear for.
Snook plays Sarah, a fertility doctor grieving the recent death of her beloved father, but keeping up a brave face for her daughter Mia (Latorre), who is seven years old. Sarah is no longer with Mia’s father Pete (Damon Herriman, not playing Charles Manson for a change), but on friendly terms with her and her new partner Denise (Naomi Rukavina). They are invited to Mia’s birthday party. Uninvited is Sarah’s mother Joan (Greta Scacchi) who is suffering from dementia in a nursing home. The estrangement is not accidental: Sara deliberately avoids the increasingly insistent calls from her mother’s caretakers and passes Joan’s birthday card to her granddaughter, unseen by Mia. Later that evening, he burns it off, sipping wine alone on the breezy back porch.
He has so successfully cut Joan out of Mia’s life that it is uncomfortable when Mia suddenly claims to “miss” the grandmother she never met. When Sarah protests that’s not possible, the girl sighs, “I miss people I’ve never met all the time,” a world-weariness that relaxes, even amuses, Sarah: it’s just her precocious child in her cute, quirky self. . But it’s less easy to dismiss the outrage at which Mia insists on calling Sarah’s sister, who disappeared at age seven, Alice. And it’s impossible to get rid of the white rabbit, which, to Mia’s delight, appears on the doorstep of their modernist Melbourne home. When Sarah tries to get it out of its makeshift garden enclosure one night, the creature bites her, causing the most obvious of the film’s many unhealed wounds.
If Reed isn’t inventing a lot of new horror scenarios, he’s certainly adamant about cramming in as much existing iconography as possible. There’s the crude rabbit mask that Mia insists on wearing. There are childhood photos with scratched faces and a corrugated shed completely hung with tools like tetanus-rust knives and claws. There are an unlikely number of doors to the habit of slowly opening in the background, and there are plenty of dreams where something unspeakable is about to be revealed as the dreamer wakes up gasping. Flowing sores, recurring bruises, sudden nosebleeds and dark black holes with some, or possibly nothing, crouch – “Run Rabbit Run” has it all.
Many of these elements, including hints of “Alice in Wonderland” with the sister’s name and that pesky white rabbit, mean more than they actually deliver. But Bonnie Elliott’s sepulchral cinematography, especially the later “Top of the Lake”-style Australian Gothic landscapes, make each a carefully designed exercise in camera placement, while Mark Bradshaw and Marcus Whale’s brooding, bass-laden score haunts. Your nerves even when you know you are being hoodwinked.
But it’s primarily the performance that confirms that “Run Rabbit Run,” which Netflix acquired ahead of its Sundance bow, is more than just a greatest-hits compilation of classic horror. Snook is playing against his Shiv-to-“inheritance” type so far that it’s not too late that we remember his great powers of cunning. “I thought we agreed that Mia would be an only child,” she tells Pete when he reveals that she and Denise are trying for another. What at first seems like an ex-wife’s jealousy soon takes on surprising resonance – perhaps there’s another reason Mia doesn’t have siblings? — and Snook’s complex expression supports all the different readings. And if anything, she’s brilliantly compared to the ambivalence of the self-obsessed Latour, whose Mia has always been a supernaturally haunted child and A curious, clever little girl with an indomitable instinct to uncover her mother’s secrets through make-believe.
“You’re a good girl,” Sarah whispers to herself, arranging her father’s old sweater around her neck like an empty hug. “You are a horrible man!” Mia later yells at him, either in childish temper or spectral possession. In a surprisingly uncompromising finale that fears to trample other maternal horrors, where a turn of the screw just won’t stop turning, “Run Rabbit Run” leaves no doubt that the assessment is closer to the truth. After all the references to recent horror hits, Reed’s slickly crafted potboiler finally adheres to a more ancient logic, like a dark fairy tale, the kind of devil’s deal made so long ago that’s almost forgotten finally arrives, and the price, blood and kinship, is steep.