There’s no nation or continent I want to visit more than Australia, but as someone who watches a lot of genre films there’s also no nation/continent that I’ve been warned more about in regard to the violent fate that seems to await everyone there. Rabbit continues that trend, but rather than focus on a direct, traditional danger like venomous creatures or diddle-happy drunkards the film is after a threat far more ominous and threatening.
A terrified young woman runs through the dark overhang of a forest with someone or something on her tail. She makes it to a house, but after a warm welcome the promise of safety is quickly shattered. Maude (Adelaide Clemens) awakens from the dream, but it’s one in which her twin sister Cleo starred. Cleo’s been missing for a year, but Maude’s dreams have only gotten stronger despite being thousands of miles away in Germany. Unable to focus on anything else, Maude returns to Australia intent on finding her sister, and while the rest of her family and authorities have given up hope she sets out to retrace Cleo’s steps.
The visions are causing health issues, and Maude believes the twin sister bond they share is responsible for their intensity — but she also believes it means Cleo is still alive and in desperate need of help. Joined by a friend (Jonny Pasvolsky) and Cleo’s fiance, Ralph (Alex Russell), Maude follows a trail that leads into the woods and into the very same arms of darkness.
Writer/director Luke Shanahan‘s feature debut, Rabbit, moves from traditional thriller to one far more contemplative, and while it reminds of films as varied as The Vanishing and a certain French thriller (that I won’t name here for fear of giving the wrong impression) it’s every bit its own mysterious and suspenseful creation.
Shanahan maybe relies too much on loud music beats for a quick jolt of adrenaline, but while they feel unnecessary they never distract from what viewers are experiencing and seeing. And what we’re seeing is a powerful mix of Australia’s natural beauty and that same landscape’s inherent embrace of nightmares. Cinematographer Anna Howard affords the film a dreamy feel as Maude moves between her visions and reality, and while the narrative is grounded the visuals tease an intentional uncertainty. From the vastness of the woods to the more confined geography of locked rooms the feeling of safety and freedom is an elusive one.
It’s a film about sibling love and sacrifice, specifically one about the bond between twins, but the themes carry over to the connections we have with our loved ones and the limits we’d exceed in their defense. How far would you go to rescue them? How far would you go to understand them?
The cast is solid and strong throughout, but it’s two women who stand out here. Clemens pulls double duty and delivers a lead character who’s powered by love and determination through harrowing circumstances and outcomes, and she also portrays the less confident and possibly defeated twin. They’re distinct characters, and Clemens ensures that holds true in their personas. Veerle Baetens is equally compelling as a woman playing an important role in Maude’s journey.
Rabbit offers traditional thrills as its mystery unfolds, but familiar threats soon give way to ones far greater and oppressive. Motivations are key on both sides of the moral divide, and while their execution indicates a strict line between good and evil the actual intentions of all parties aren’t that far removed. Everyone’s running toward the truth.
Rabbit is currently in limited release and coming soon to VOD.