“I miss people I’ve never met all of the time.”
Those ominous words uttered from the mouth of Mia (Lily LaTorre), should have been enough of a warning for her mother, Sarah (Succession star Sarah Snook) to cut and run, but of course that’s not how things work out in these creepy kid movies. Run Rabbit Run enters the long line of this overworked subgenre, which are almost exclusively about women and mothers coping with grief or trauma. Filmmaker Dana Reid (The Handmaid’s Tale) and screenwriter Hannah Kent don’t do much to deviate from expectations, but it’s got enough chills to appeal to an eager Midnight audience.
Sarah, a single mom and fertility doctor (who doesn’t do much work, actually), has just been hit with a one-two punch of bad news. While still grieving over the death of her father, she’s also learned that her ex-husband and Mia’s father is attempting to have another child with his new wife. On top of that, Mia has begun acting strangely upon adopting a rabbit that wandered into their yard. From that point on, it seems like Sarah can do nothing right with her daughter, who has become increasingly hostile. Mia has begun wearing a scary pink rabbit mask, and insisting that her name is actually “Alice” while insisting that she wants to see someone named “Joan.” These names have meaning to Sarah; we know by the way she recoils every time they are said aloud.
Reid dishes out information slowly, making the 100-minute film feel quite a lot longer. What she does quite well, in a similar fashion to The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy before it, is blur the line between reality and fantasy, using the skewed perceptions of children and adults. A mother’s protective love can look quite different to an angry, misunderstood child. But it gets worse when the parent is harboring secrets from a past full of tragedy, involving a missing sister and an estranged mother (Greta Scacchi) suffering from dementia.
Run Rabbit Run rests on the strong performances of Snook, LaTorre, and one ever-present white bunny. LaTorre’s inscrutable demeanor keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering what Mia will do next and how much Sarah should be worried. Snook has the tougher job because Sarah isn’t easy to sympathize with for differing reasons. She often comes across as pushy and clueless, but Snook manages to make us feel for Sarah and the burden she carries as a mother, a daughter, and a sister.
Like many Australian genre films, Run Rabbit Run has a certain dusty, barren look that leaves you wanting to take the longest shower ever when it’s over. What the film doesn’t need is the shrill, shrieking soundtrack attempting to add spookiness where it feels Snook and LaTorre are incapable. This is especially true in the final act, as Reid relies on increasingly desperate camera tricks to try and jump-scare the audience when this was never that kind of movie to begin with. What resonates are Snook and LaTorre’s performances, which capture the natural fears that come with single parenthood and the legacy of family trauma.