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Australia 2017
Directed by
Luke Shanahan
103 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


Synopsis: A young woman Maude (Adelaide Clemens) studying medicine in Germany returns to Adelaide, South Australia to try to find her twin sister Cleo (Clemens), who disappeared a year earlier and about whom she has been having disturbingly real nightmares.

Adelaide has been called both “the city of churches” and “the murder capital of the world”. The latter tag is on statistical evidence alone indefensible but it is true that the city is home to an unusually high number of ghoulish crimes – the abduction and probable murder of the three Beaumont children in 1966, the Truro Murders in 1977 in which seven women were raped, killed and buried in shallow graves, in the early 1980s five young men were abducted, drugged, mutilated and murdered in what became known as the Family Murders and, of course the Snowtown Murders, described in Justin Kurzel’s 2011 masterpiece Snowtown.

So it is entirely appropriate that debut writer-director Luke Shanahan should make the South Australian capital the locus for his horror-thriller. However where Kurzel’s film succeeded because it concentrated on, to use a now much-worn phrase “the banality of evil”, in what was essentially a realistic portrayal of events, Shanahan’s film, albeit a work of fiction, almost completely bypasses the specifics of his story and plugs straight into the familiar tropes of the horror-thriller genre: an isolated country mansion hideaway, dubious basement medical experiments, inmates staring helplessly through mullioned windows, hooded minions and dudes with bad haircuts standing ominously alone in wintry landscapes. The aim is evidently to scare us and to some extent the film is successful but in what I assume is an attempt to imbue his film with European atmosphere as opposed to Hollywood story-telling, Shanahan purposely erases the mechanics of his plot, leaving us with an indeterminate narrative drift and ill-defined motivations (only Clemens's Maude really emerges as a fully-rounded character), the whole thing punctuated with a thunderous clangour in the form of Michael Darren’s score that periodically erupts on the soundtrack. The latter and the striking opening credits, neutrally white characters on a blood-red background, are probably the best things about the film.

Aside from the broad strokes, it is hard to say what is going on for the duration of Rabbit. Only a late scene in which a gaggle of elderly men and women in vintage luxury cars turn up, as "The Council" perhaps suggesting some kind of National Socialist inflected occultist cenacle (Shanahan not only has Maude studying in Berlin but at one point the director of the mansion played by Veerle Baetens sings a German lullaby to one of the sequestered children and later dances with her husband to ebullient Beethoven) but this still doesn’t make the film any more than generally comprehensible.

Certain horror films such as The Shining (1980) can offer satisfactions for a cross-over audience but Rabbit is very much for dyed-in-the-wool horror fans, a to-me strange group who seem to feed on portentous crypticism like ghouls on a freshly-discovered corpse.




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