Set against the backdrop of Australia’s caravan culture, RABBIT follows Maude’s search for her twin sister Cleo who, despite being thousands of miles away, may be sending her psychic signal about her abduction. Knowing her parents have given up on finding Cleo, Maude teams up with her sister’s boyfriend and the detective who believes Cleo’s boyfriend is the one responsible. The investigation leads them out into the lawless outback where people can live in caravans with little oversight from the government. After a few initial conversations prove to Maude that her sister was in fact there, she begins to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to endanger her as well.
RABBIT is a bold debut from writer/director Luke Shanahan who dives headfirst into a secret world, dragging us with him and giving us little room to catch our breath. Every sequence is meticulously designed and full of tension. Anchored by a phenomenal performance from Adelaide Clemens who plays both twins, RABBIT manages to avoid any distance that noir genre films often fall victim to. Maude is experiencing the same pain and terror that her sister is and finds herself in a dangerous situation with her only accomplices being two men who hate each other.
Without giving the story away, this is a film that manages to be as psychologically frightening as physically. And Shanahan amplifies its tension with a cool hand in capturing visual portraits that can be either as visceral or as scientifically sterile as the scene requires, all accentuated by an at times overbearing score that seems to oppress the action with its very soundscape. This is a confident film from a new director where the audience is always racing to keep up with the action but manages to dive in to the emotional struggle of the lead character.
I had a chance to speak with director about his film prior to its World premiere at Fantastic Fest:
Shanahan: I have a very close set of friends who are twins – identical. We were out at lunch one day and chatting randomly when one of the twins tells me that she reckons she would be able to feel if her sister (her twin) was being tortured. I thought this was a fascinating and (very strrange premise – apart from a weird thing to say over a meal. So the seed for RABBIT was born; when faced with a life-threatening event, could one twin reach out to the other for help? It’s a fantastic idea, but the more I delved into it – the more a lot of twins research offered up some truly remarkable connections.
BEARS: There is a lot of ‘old wives tales’ and pseudo-science about the connection between twins. What did you find in your research? Anything stand out as particularly convincing?
Shanahan: There are hospitals or (research facilities) everywhere conducting tests on twins. I guess it’s hard to not think about World War 2 and the role the Nazi’s took in such experiments, and indeed there is a lot of information out there on that – but that really wasn’t the major source for me. It was more the contemporary ‘goings-on’ that intrigued me. Even in little old Australia – there are places that conduct tests to illustrate potential connections. Hard to believe that some people would put themselves up for such testing? But they do. For me, shocking one twin to get a response from another twin in the next room is not as far fetched as it may sound. One scene in the film is based on real experiences of summoning past memories from a twin. Indeed, some twins have summoned memories from their twin and retold events that they personally weren’t involved in. But their twin was. Spooky?
Shanahan: She is amazing. She is instinctive, brave and her process is remarkable. We just got each other straight away and she required very little “work” to get into the role once she was on board. As there is not huge surface difference between the twins in regards to wardrobe, make-up and styling – I wanted her to inhabit the emotional space of each twin and cultivate the difference (and similarity) from there. In a way I was making it harder for her as she didn’t have a wig or a bright dress to create the distinction. But she found it. She has a softness to her yet also a strength and resilience. With the slightest movement or subtlest gesture, she has you under her spell.
BEARS: Caravan culture seems to be something that exists in Australia and the UK (I’m thinking Guy Ritchie films), but we don’t much have that in the US. The closest thing would be trailer parks. Tell us about caravan culture and why you wanted to use it as the backdrop to the film.
Shanahan: I wanted the organisation or group conducting the research to have a spider’s web below it. Almost like an underclass that would act as the bait to trap the twins. These groups often feed on the weakest in society or those on the social fringes. I do find caravan culture interesting and always have – an element of the traveling gypsy class that can just disappear and exist underneath the radar. In Australia we have so much bush, so many rural areas that aren’t touched and people you may not even come across.
BEARS: The music in the film is integral to the tension – tells about your thinking behind your choices – from the classical to what I would describe as synth-chant, as well as the sometimes overbearing (in a good way) assault of music over colored slides at the opening and midpoint.
Shanahan: Yep the music is loud – and very deliberate. I think genre score is one of the last remaining bastions of film music where you can be loud. I think film score has moved to “seen and not heard” a little. I love a film where the music engages, prompts and takes you down the rabbit hole. There is no escape – and there shouldn’t be. The classical choices are used as “source” music but I also wanted the synth score to echo a kind of – John Carpenter meets “Suspiria” vibe. I do have a soft spot for those 70’s scores that I guess verge on the melodramatic but it was the entire visceral experience that wasn’t afraid to say – sit back, strap yourself in – you’re watching a movie.
RABBIT makes its North American Premere this friday at Fantastic Fest.