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rochefort [Celluloid 11.03.17] horror thriller mystery

Maude Ashton (Adelaide Clemens) suffers from vivid recurring nightmares that she’s convinced are more than just dreams: she believes they’re telling her where to find her twin sister Cleo, who’s been missing for a year. Her parents have given up on Cleo, and nobody takes Maude’s visions seriously except Ralph (Alex Russell), Cleo’s abandoned boyfriend, and Henry (Jonny Pasvolsky), the cop who has spent the past year obsessing over this unsolved case. The three of them, beginning with only the vaguest of clues, head into a no-man’s land in rural Australia, a forest home to a community of handicapped and mentally disturbed trailer-dwellers. There they meet Nerida (Veerle Baetens), owner of a nearby mansion and the apparent matriarch to this clan of simpletons, which includes an unusually large number of twins, and little by little Maude discovers her sister may have fallen victim to some truly sinister machinations.

A tale of freaky twins and malevolent cabals, Rabbit, the first feature by writer/director Luke Shanahan, is frankly one of the most stunning debuts I’ve seen in a long time. From the oppressively gorgeous dream sequences, masterfully shot by Anna Howard, to the bone-vibrating score by Michael Darren that jumps in and out like an executioner’s axe, to the stark and dreamlike quality that permeates shot after shot of the Australian wilderness, Shanahan’s film is designed and executed with the sort of confidence we typically associate with the heydays of David Lynch, Philip Kaufman and Nicholas Roeg.

The less I divulge about story specifics the better, but suffice to say that if you like your mystery thrillers infused with maximum dread, and/or if you just think twins are creepy, then Rabbit has you covered like quicksand.

And it’s a refreshingly difficult film. The story comes together by the final frame well enough, but you’re left with unanswered questions, some big, some small, that you’ll chew on for hours afterwards. I know I did. And by “difficult” I don’t mean obtuse or convoluted. I’m referring to the stubborn, almost coy manner in which Shanahan doles out clues and confirmations, throwing us off with tangential dialogue and subplots that go in unexpected directions.

Moments of banal routine are juxtaposed with images that really catch you off guard with the amount of information they convey. The effect is frequently disorienting, and Shanahan and company clearly intend it that way. I found Rabbit to be something of a spiritual cousin to classics like The Wicker Man and Freaks, each of which is high on my list of discomforting favorites, and I suspect this one will have the same sort of staying power.

Recommended Release: Wake Wood

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