Rubberneck: Tribeca Review

Tale of romantic obsession trades nail-biting suspense for credible realism.

Alex Karpovsky directs and stars as a mad scientist in the chilling romantic thriller.

NEW YORK — A character-driven take on true-crime fare, Alex Karpovsky's Rubberneck marks a solid dramatic turn for a filmmaker best known for playing comedic parts in indie films like Tiny Furniture. Though not showy in any way, it could find enough support on the fest circuit to justify a theatrical run.

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Karpovsky plays Paul, a scientist who strikes up a conversation at a party with new coworker Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman), winds up having a passionate night with her, and then finds her uninterested in further romance. Eight months later, Danielle's a cordial but impassive colleague and Paul's seething: sneaking glances at her constantly, bristling at the way she flirts with another man in the lab, occasionally needing to duck into the men's room for a gasping anxiety attack.

Though it's clear something bad will happen, Rubberneck doesn't play like a thriller, turning screws until someone breaks. Karpovsky and cowriter Garth Donovan take their time fleshing out Paul's character, from the abandonment issues in his childhood to the awkward ways he now seeks companionship. James Lavino's subtly effective score suits this approach, and doesn't go for broke even when things take their inevitable turn.

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Once Paul snaps, Rubberneck breaks a sweat without really abandoning the thoughtful mood it has established. A sequence at the lab, with Paul pretending everything is normal while disaster looms, is especially involving. The aftermath of his breakdown offers surprises without exploitation, and resolves itself far more realistically than thrillers typically do.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, Viewpoints
Production Company: Blameless Twins
Cast: Alex Karpovsky, Jaime Ray Newman, Amanda Good Hennessey, Dennis Staroselsky, Dakota Shepard
Director: Alex Karpovsky
Screenwriters-Editors: Alex Karpovsky, Garth Donovan
Producers: Garth Donovan, Michael Bowes, Adam Roffman
Executive producers: Robert Patton-Spruill, Patricia Moreno
Director of photography: Beecher Cotton
Production designer: Lindsay Degen
Music: James Lavino
Sales: XYZ Films
No rating, 83 minutes