“Can people come back?” asks Mia, the cute little girl whose increasingly hair-raising antics are the crux of this atmospheric Midnight premiere from Australia. From the dead, she means, and it’s a macabre thought that Daina Reid’s effective but perhaps overlong debut feature film plays with quite tantalizingly, right until the end. Although the tease may wear down commercial audiences expecting to find out one way or the other, Run Rabbit Run will find favor on the arthouse and especially the festival circuit.
Like a lot of recent genre films with female leads — eg Ari Aster’s Hereditary or Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook — Reid’s film takes place in a time of fresh bereavement or recent marriage trauma. In this case, it’s both: Sarah (Sarah Snook), Mia’s mother, is dealing with her father’s death, but the hammer blow comes when her ex-husband announces that he and his new wife are trying for a baby, something she thought they’d both drawn a line under when they were a couple. In the meantime, Mia has adopted a mysterious white rabbit, which seems to have appeared from nowhere, and reacts violently when her mother tries, quite unceremoniously, to chuck it over the garden fence.
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Like both those aforementioned films, Run Rabbit Run deliberately overlaps notions of reality and abstraction, and that blurring only intensifies when, immediately after her seventh birthday, Mia claims that Sarah is not her mother. The strangeness increases when Mia starts to insist that she is really Sarah’s sister Alice, who disappeared when she was also seven, and demands to meet Sarah’s estranged mother Joan (Greta Scacchi), now suffering from dementia. Mia’s behavior extends to school, where her teachers sagely note the strange, angry drawings she’s been doing, the dark and morbid kind that, in real life, would probably have social services round with a S.W.A.T. team.
Lily LaTorre, who plays Mia, is an absolute find in this regard, and her impressively unreadable, protean performance is the motor that drives the film (Cameron Bright as the young upstart in Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerizing 2004 reincarnation thriller Birth comes to mind, although the outcome here is very different). But the film rests squarely on the shoulders of Succession star Snook, who does a lot of heavy lifting, keeping us sympathetic right up to, and maybe even beyond, the point of revelation. Catherine Deneuve’s extraordinary performance in Repulsion casts a long shadow here; but even though the mere mention of Roman Polanski’s name these days brings people out in hives, her work there shouldn’t be forgotten, and Snook is really a match for that.
The main downside of Reid’s film is its staccato tone: it frequently fades to black for no good reason and, in the last half hour, this tends to suggest that the ending is going to be more impromptu and unsatisfying than it actually is. Likewise, there are certain tropes from Australian trauma dramas — family homes left untouched and unoccupied until the protagonists go back there — that don’t travel well. But Run Rabbit Run has a poetic resonance that, while not exactly a close relative of Sam Raimi’s 2009 horror Drag Me To Hell, makes for an equally nightmarish essay on action and consequence, not to mention the isolation and travails that come with single parenthood.
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