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Fantastic Fest ’17 Review: RABBIT blurs the line between dreams and reality

Friday, September 22, 2017 | Review

BY DEIRDRE CRIMMINS

Starring Adelaide Clemens, Alex Russell, Jonny Pasvolsky, and Veerle Baetens
Written and directed by Luke Shanahan

The horror genre has long had a love affair with twins. Even before research emerged on the uncanny valley and other psychological reactions to visual conundrums, there has been unease in seeing two versions of the exact same person. Anyone who knows a set of twins personally knows that this discomfort is not based in reality, but even beyond the physical copy-paste, there is a connection between twins that non-twins will never understand.

This uncommon connection between these siblings is the crux of RABBIT. A year after Cleo has gone missing from home in Australia, her estranged twin Maude returns to find the sister she is certain is still alive. As soon as Maude comes home it is clear that not all was well with the family before the disappearance. Cleo was, by far, the “better sister” if there was one. Maude’s escape to Germany seemed to ease the family tension, as only shipping abroad the black sheep would.

Maude’s return home is not solely motivated by the sudden urge mourn or break bread with her parents. She has been having vivid nightmares and is convinced that they are Cleo’s way of saying that she is alive and needs help. Though the parents have already made their peace with Cleo’s presumed death, Maude is not willing to step aside and accept that fate. Her journey from here takes her places—both literal and physical—she did not know existed, as she searches for her sister. The second act of RABBITS pivots quickly from a rescue mission towards an encounter with a nefarious organization, with shades of MARTYRS and the doldrums of rituals from A DARK SONG.

“RABBIT asks the audience to imagine that these terrors are real.”

While RABBIT aims to unnerve its audience by exploring the otherworldly connections between twins, it does not limit the horror in the film to that uncanny relationship. Maude’s dreams, and their effect on her, are terrors that bring her fears into the audience’s minds. Nearly everyone has had a terrifying dream that felt real. You awake in a cold sweat, thankful that it was “all just a dream.” RABBIT asks the audience to imagine that these terrors are real. What if your worst, most intense dreams, are merely a way that a loved one is crying out to you for help? That very notion calls into question not only the nature of dreams, but of the responsibility of the dreamer.

Even with RABBIT’s strong concept, the greatest strength of the film is Adelaide Clemens’s performance. As both Cleo and Maude she portrays two separate characters who just so happen to be identical. Each twin has her own body language, and handles duress differently. In fact, the film’s only marked falterings are the scenes where attention is taken away from Maude or Cleo. The supporting cast and secondary plot are both engaging enough, but not nearly as important as the twins.

RABBIT is the first feature film from Aussie writer-director Luke Shanahan. Though the film suffers from minor pacing issues, likely related to balancing many ideas with a heavy atmosphere, it never feels like a freshman feature. The editing, score, and beautiful cinematography all come together for a cohesive, chilling tale.

Deirdre is a Cleveland-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH., FILM THRILLS, and BITCH FLICKS. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.
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