Directed by Daina Reid from a screenplay by Hannah Kent, the film places us in the initially happy though increasingly tenuous life of Snook’s Sarah. A mother who works as a fertility doctor, a profession which does the film no favors as it just invites comparisons to the far superior birth/rebirth that also showed at the festival, she is soon to celebrate the birthday of her daughter. Mia (Lily Latorre) has just turned seven and appears to be a completely ordinary little kid as she revels in the occasion. That will soon change when a rabbit shows up on their doorstep and the young girl soon starts wearing a mask resembling her new furry friend.
Sarah, carrying a lot of repressed sadness of her own, is clearly a little unnerved by this though isn’t quite sure what to do about it. However, when Mia begins calling herself by a different name from her mother’s past and acting quite differently than the kid we were first introduced to, it will become impossible to ignore what is going on. As Sarah becomes confronted with secrets that she had done everything that she could to bury to never have to think about them again, the life she built for herself and her daughter starts to crumble before her eyes.
This all sounds well and good in theory. In execution, the film never finds its footing. The animal imagery, both in the rabbit and birds that occasionally seem to haunt the film, invites the sense that there is something supernatural going on. Unfortunately, it is vaguely sketched and lacking in genuine scares that it soon just becomes part of the lackluster overall experience. The confines of the suburbs in which Sarah lives with the character formerly known as Mia start to become suffocating. As the single mother begins observing her daughter making unsettling drawings, which feel like they could have been lifted from any other film, she starts to grow paranoid that elements of her past have been found out. This setting is eventually abandoned when the two return to Sarah’s childhood home in an attempt to dial up the tension by tying the two timelines together. The entire experience feels eerily reminiscent of striking past Australian horror films such The Babadook and the more recent Relic in how it tries to intertwine the petrifying elements with something more personal.
Where Run Rabbit Run falls short is that it lacks any uniqueness that it can call its own. There are few visual moments that stand out in the mind as the film increasingly toys with you by robbing the experience of any depth when it repeatedly calls into question whether what we are supposedly seeing even matters at all. If there is one saving grace, it would be in the performance of Snook. While most known to many for her role in the series Succession, she more than proves that she is capable of carrying a film all on her own. She shouldn’t have had to, as the story lets her down at nearly every turn, but she really rises to the occasion.
The poise with which she initially carries herself as she goes through the routines of work and motherhood is juxtaposed with the way the darkness begins to creep in. While the rest of the film goes for the bare minimum of imitation, Snook feels like she is bringing out something far deeper and more primal. She is able to take the flimsy foundation that the film is operating on and reach for something more intriguing. In particular, several moments towards the end where Sarah becomes almost completely consumed by fear, and the darkness that surrounds her cuts through all the noise. It is her distraught expression that stays etched in your mind.
In these sequences, all the ways that Snook shines just calls attention to how everything else is just less interesting by comparison. Even the best performances in the world can’t salvage a story that is without any defining cinematic identity of its own. Of course, just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it still can’t do it well. Alas, that never comes to fruition in Run Rabbit Run. There are a couple of moments that prove to be genuinely alarming, including one that involves a pair of scissors that become a weapon, and seemed to hint at what could have been a different direction for the film to go towards. Instead, any moments of audaciousness are smothered by the standard story that seems hellbent on taking us down.
Cycling through various tropes where we begin to trust Sarah’s perspective less and less, the grasp at an emotional metaphor about trauma becomes cannibalistic in that it is a closed loop. It only ends up consuming itself and the characters in this pursuit, leaving little substance beyond its shallow ideas that never come together into anything meaningful. While Snook does all she can to give the experience some heft, Run Rabbit Run is a horror film in search of something greater others have already achieved that it is never able to find.
Run Rabbit Run debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.