Signal Horizon

See Beyond

{Sundance 2023} Run Rabbit Run – review

Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival

“I miss people I’ve never met all the time,” 7-year-old Mia tells her mother Sarah in an early scene of Run Rabbit Run.

An innocent delivery of a beyond-her-years, only slightly alarming sentence, that startles Sarah (Succession’s Sarah Snook) and the audience. Kids can be creepy and Daina Reid’s feature debut, with an impressive Lily LaTorre as Mia, fully falls into the canon of precious, precocious children scaring the living hell out of their parents.

Premiered at Sundance Film Festival, Run Rabbit Run relies on one too many horror tropes, borrowed and crammed into an atmospheric tale set in South Australia. The result feels unoriginal, though it ticks all the boxes of an entertaining, eerie watch. Hinting at secrets buried in all our own houses, this is perfect streaming material — no wonder Netflix acquired the distribution rights before the film even premiered in Park City.

Run Rabbit Run is about guilt as well as grief

Mia’s initial sentence may throw someone off by implying this is a ghost story. In a way, it is as she develops a sinister if understandable, interest in the loved ones who are no longer with her. Or never really were.

There’s some unprocessed trauma looming large on the little girl’s seventh birthday, anticipated by a cute, clingy rabbit who’s enamored with her. But Run Rabbit Run is about guilt as well as grief, with Snook’s brilliantly ambiguous turn as Sarah being the best part of it.

In the first act, we learn that the protagonist has a strained relationship with her mother Joan (Greta Scacchi), who’s in a facility following the death of her husband Al (Neil Melville). Mia has never met her grandma, yet she becomes uncontrollably fascinated by her, pestering Sarah to finally introduce them.

A mama bear in her girlboss veneer, Sarah is less than impressed with Mia’s new pristine, furry friend. As is with her daughter’s obsession with Joan. Despite her best efforts, neither will go away. Nor will the unsettling feeling that she and Mia may not be alone in their home.

A Matriarchal Family Story

Like fellow Aussie horror Relic, Reid’s film also presents a matriarchal family that risks being upended by miscommunication and skeletons in the closet, both figurative and literal. 

Joan’s early onset dementia conveniently plays into Mia’s assurance that her name is, in fact, Alice. Just like Sarah’s younger sister, who went missing decades prior. When she was seven, to be exact.

Intense eye contact and uncomfortable questions, Mia tests her mum, causing the woman’s carefully built reality to unravel by way of imperceptible glances and an increasingly defensive demeanor. But who is Sarah really trying to protect?

The idea of a connection between Mia and Alice is splashed across the film’s central act through repetitive, not-so-subtle symbolism. Mia’s new pet, the pink rabbit mask she wears wherever she goes, the nickname Bunny… All elements evidently wink at Alice in Wonderland. 

Cinematographer Bonnie Elliot’s camera lowers the angle in crucial shots to mirror the rabbit’s POV, while simultaneously suggesting that something, or someone, might just pay a visit from down below.

Sarah’s past may come back to bite her

The moody Australian sky casts a shadow on Sarah’s dysfunctional family life, as her ex-husband Pete (Damon Herriman) informs her that he and his new partner Denise (Georgina Naidu) are trying to get pregnant.

“I thought we’d agreed Mia would be an only child,” Sarah replies, and you get the sense there’s more to her words than just a remnant of possession over an ex.

Just like with the rabbit, the protagonist wants to get rid of any vermin that could tarnish her carefully constructed world. Soon enough, it becomes clear that the lead’s controlling attitude may just come back to bite her. 

Courtesy of The Sundance Film Festival

Run Rabbit Run’s Final Act Redeems Its Predictable Plot

Reid’s movie takes a turn in the final act, with Sarah determined to leave her past behind in the place where tragedy struck: her childhood home.

This is the part where Hannah Kent’s script slips into a menagerie of horror clichés. As if reading from a How To Write A Scary Story 101 textbook, Run Rabbit Run features a shed with rusty tools, an isolated home immersed in an unforgiving nature, and more family portraits than one can take in their lifetime.

It’s a lot and takes time away from some undercooked areas of the movie. The relationship between Sarah and Joan would have benefited from more scenes but remains confined to the few visits they’re allowed at the clinic. Nonetheless, Scacchi’s character still manages to deliver one of the most spine-chilling lines in the film, giving way to finding the key to open all those locked doors from forever ago.

The finale redeems the film’s predictability, offering a much-welcome, daring spin on mother-and-daughter horror dynamics. Taking advantage of the ineluctable structure of moral fables, the last moments of the film play out an “eye for an eye” logic. Without caveat, the characters reap what they sow. Nor are there any tricks to make terrible prospects more palatable to the audience. 

Palatable is Reid’s movie, a well-executed horror film that makes the most of its predecessors’ legacy without adding much to the canon. You know where this is going and you’re glad to tag along for the ride, even if it is familiar and unsettling. It works just fine, but, unlike the memory of the people you’ve lost, it won’t haunt you for very long.