Sarah Snook is in full command of this Australian midnight selection, pre-bought by Netflix
Dir. Daina Reed. Australia. 2023. 100 mins
Melbourne, Australia. A harrowed single mother (Succession’s Sarah Snook), her odd child (Lily LaTorre) and an estranged grandmother (Greta Scacchi), who is given to spells of creepily-prescient dementia, are about to enter into a deranged dance. This is familiar terrain, and debut feature director Daina Reed doesn’t try very hard to disassociate herself with those who have gone before (The Babadook, say, or Relic, which was made by the same production company, both of which also featured in Sundance’s Midnight Section). But stay tuned, because there’s a reason why Netflix picked up this psychological horror in advance of the festival.
Snook turns in a terrific performance which is always true to the character at every point of a complex arc
Reed, writer Hanna Kent and actor Snook form a tight troika, layering Run Rabbit Run slowly – perhaps too slowly – to the point where it’s easy to forget that the framework is recognisable. Yes, mothering is madness, and there’s nothing particularly original about a child wearing a crude animal mask, and that’s before you get to a shed full of rusty gardening tools. LaTorre, though, is a particularly effective child actor, her narrow-faced blankness turning on a knife-edge throughout. And the film is only using these tricks to fool you.
Indeed, the earlier parts seem like deceptively-easy viewing as Sarah (Snook) wakes Mia (LaTorre) up on the morning of her seventh birthday, drops her into school and head off to her gynaecology practice. Returning in the evening to their glass-walled Melbourne house for a party, which will be attended by Mia’s dad (Damon Herriman) and his new partner, they discover a white rabbit has suddenly arrived on the doorstep. Mia is thrilled, but Sarah is strangely hostile to the animal. There’s an unease to the party, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it is coming from.
As the wind whips up around the house, we understand that Sarah’’s beloved father has just died and that she is estranged from her mother, Joan (Greta Scaachi). The garage is filled with boxes of his things, even his clothes, which Sarah uses to comfort herself. But she burns a birthday card that Joan has written to Mia and tries to throw the rabbit over the fence. Bitten by the animal, Sarah develops a festering sore on her hand – an outward manifestation of the trouble that’s about to erupt. Suddenly, Mia declares that she ‘misses’ Joan, a person she has never met, and starts to insist that she is called Alice.
“I miss people I’ve never met all the time,” adds Mia/Alice.
Alice, it turns out, is Sarah’s sister, and let’s just say that a seventh birthday holds some special significance for this family, as does a decrepit homestead where loosely-hinged doors have a habit of swinging shut, and leave it at that.
While Kent’s screenplay rummages around the psyche of its lead character as if it were a box in that garage, Reed opens her film out, growing in confidence to break out of its genre trappings. The homestead, for example, has a spectacular, vertiginous aspect, but it’s also claustrophobic and dank. Tech credits are skilful, from production design through to a tense score which also uses ambient sound to optimal effect.
Most of all, though, Sarah Snook turns in a terrific performance which is always true to the character at every point of a complex arc. Succession fans won’t be used to this range but they’ll be impressed by it, and recognise a few underhanded moves. So closely is the actor bound to the story that it’s impossible to separate the lines between creators and actors: rather, Run Rabbit Run is teamwork to its core, a sisterhood offscreen that’s not quite mirrored on.
Production company: Carver Films
Worldwide distribution: Netflix
Producers: Sarah Shaw, Anna McLeish
Screenplay: Hanna Kent
Cinematography: Bonnie Elliott
Production design: Vanessa Cerne
Editing: Nick Meyers
Music: Mark Bradshaw, Marcus Whale
Main cast: Sarah Snook, Lily LaTorre, Damon Herriman, Greta Scacchi