Horror films have had an excellent year so far. Evil Dead Rise made a killing at the box office and Rob Savage made a decent Stephen King adaptation. Elizabeth Banks went big and bonkers with Cocaine Bear and we had another Scream film, always a joyful occasion.
Run Rabbit Run, Netflix’s new horror offering, pales in comparison with all these films. Daina Reid’s feature film debut, Run Rabbit Run premiered at Sundance Film Festival but was bought by Netflix before it screened.
The film follows Sarah (Succession’s Sarah Snook), a fertility doctor trying to come to terms with the death of her father as her daughter Mia’s 7th birthday approaches. Mia suddenly starts behaving weird; she claims to know Sarah’s estranged mother Joan and insists her name is Alice and that Sarah isn’t her real mother. Uh oh!
Alice, as we learn, was Sarah’s sister who went missing when she was seven. She was never found and has been presumed dead, even though Joan still believes Alice would return. Has the spirit of Alice possessed Mia?
Run Rabbit Run immediately reminds you of The Babadook, another debut horror film by an Australian director about the perils of motherhood, but it lacks the imagination and elegance of that film. Reid and writer Hannah Kent stuff their film with all the horror clichés imaginable. The most egregious one is the festering wound on Sarah’s hand. She is bit by a rabbit early in the film, and the resulting oozing wound not-so-subtly represents old wounds being torn open.
Snook, who will also take on all 26 roles in The Picture of Dorian Gray, gives a committed performance. She effortlessly navigates the complex emotions Sarah goes through, but her talents are let down by such a traditional story. Towards the end of the film, her character abandons all of her previously established characteristics and fully succumbs to hysteria.
Young Lily LaTorre is a delight as Mia. She’s feisty and curious and a little insufferable, but in an endearing way.
Reid puts a lot of effort into creating a disturbing, unsettling mood for her film and mostly pulls it off. Mark Bradshaw and Marcus Whale’s haunting score is well utilised, if a little heavy at times. Bonnie Elliott’s cinematography is better when it stays close to the characters but the ugly drone shots towards the end of the film feel alienating.
Run Rabbit Run also can’t quite nail down its themes. There are many references to Alice in Wonderland, which ultimately feel empty. Run Rabbit Run is much better when it focuses on Sarah’s inner conflict and guilt. There are moments of boldness here; a scene involving scissors was particularly shocking and effective, but Reid mostly plays it frustratingly safe.
Run Rabbit Run has strong individual moments of terror, but the film never comes together satisfyingly enough. All its beats are far too familiar and it’s simultaneously overlong and rushed. Its themes aren’t fleshed out enough and Reid’s direction often lacks focus. Despite Snook’s layered, detailed performance, Run Rabbit Run is a missed opportunity.
Run Rabbit Run is streaming on Netflix now.