RUN RABBIT RUN

★★★★

A THUMPING GOOD AUSTRALIAN THRILLER

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
11th June 2023

It's not very often the genres of horror or thriller pop up in relation to Australian cinema these days. Expectations are a wide spectrum, particularly where the former is concerned - big-budget Hollywood horror has a high bar of jump scares and apparitions. That's not to say there's not a place for them; 'The Babadook' holds high critical acclaim and a cult following internationally. A new Australian film, 'Run Rabbit Run', is attempting to blend psychological horror with a very tangible thriller - and with a Netflix deal already in place, could it be on the right path to be our next supernatural success story?

Mia (Lily LaTorre, in a stunning feature debut) is turning 7 years old and her mum Sarah (Sarah Snook, TV's 'Succession', 'The Dressmaker') is throwing her a birthday party - but as she arrives home from school, a white rabbit is waiting by their door; Mia insists it's a gift for her. The get-together this year is a little smaller than usual, with Sarah and Mia still mourning the recent loss of their father and grandfather respectively. But Mia soon begins misbehaving, and the past begins getting dredged up - including the resurfacing of Sarah's mysteriously estranged mother - and it seems they may have to face some long-buried family secrets.

SWITCH: 'RUN RABBIT RUN' TRAILER

Director Daina Reid (TV's 'The Handmaid's Tale' and 'Offspring') describes 'Run Rabbit Run' as "a modern-day ghost story". That's certainly one way to look at it - the other is a fable of what happens when truth struggles to come to the surface. Not only are families fractured (in this story, both Sarah's parents and her own relationship have broken down), but the intensity becomes so heated it fractures and forms a supernatural element. While this in itself may seem wild and fanciful, this is kept extremely grounded by Hannah Kent's writing - here with her debut screenplay, but best known for her novels. At its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, Kent said this story came through research into reports of real-life events and the impact on parents. That's actually clear when you watch the effect the change in Mia has on Sarah throughout the course of the film, and you watch her lose control of the structured, orderly life that exists around her.

The on-screen duo deserve a moment of discussion - as the two main characters, Snook and LaTorre are on screen for almost the entirety of the film. Snook, as you would expect, is stunning; since her early career with 'Not Suitable for Children' and 'These Final Hours', she's always left a strong presence on screen. Yet here she is, sharing it with an 8-year-old - who has some incredibly heavy material to process - and LaTorre also performs spectacularly. For a child actor to process and deliver this level of storytelling, even with a team behind her, is astonishing. According to Reid at the Sydney Film Festival premiere, the rapport between the two actors on set was firm, and Snook made sure to keep the atmosphere fun for LaTorre between takes.

There's a constant muted colour palette that captures the landscape almost as a blurred endless expanse, while interior shots are strangely observational as though you're another character watching on from afar.

What's also truly evident - and becoming a strong suit among contemporary Australian cinema - is the gorgeous cinematography that features in the film, particularly whenever we leave the city. Whether deliberate or not, it does at times have echoes of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' - and fittingly too for this story. Lensed by Bonnie Elliott (Apple TV+'s 'Shining Girls', TV's Stateless', 'H is for Happiness'), there's a constant muted colour palette that captures the landscape almost as a blurred endless expanse, while interior shots are strangely observational as though you're another character watching on from afar.

There's a strong female force behind 'Run Rabbit Run'; it's probably not until around 15 minutes into the movie that a male character even appears on screen. Between the key cast and crew, the robust female presence was noted at the film's Australian premiere - particularly for something in the horror or thriller genre - but not something that Reid said was at all deliberate. "We just did it, we got the right people for the jobs," she explained.

The title has many inferences. While Sarah - who's a doctor, someone who other people come to for help - appears on the surface to be both capable and organised, she has a history of refusing to face her issues, instead choosing to run away. Running away from problems. Running away from the past. Running away from her old home in the country. Sadly, our rabbit - who is a symbol of weakness and fragility, in addition to being another link to the past - gets a little lost as the plot goes along, but Sarah's nickname for Mia is also "Bunny".

'Run Rabbit Run' is a terrific Australian slow-burn thriller, allowed to leap by its wildly talented cast. It's a film that scratches at the surface of an idea about life after death and being haunted by those with unresolved trauma, but is made so much more devastating thanks to the grounding that the story is given. As horrifying as the idea of otherworldly figures can sometimes be, it's what people can do to each other that induces the true horror.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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