'White Rabbit': Film Review

White Rabbit Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

White Rabbit Still - H 2015

Despite fine performances and impressive visuals, this shallow thriller falls victim to narrative cliches

A troubled teen descends into madness in Tim McCann's psychological thriller

Not since Alice in Wonderland has a rabbit figured so prominently in a character's spiritual journey as it does in Tim McCann's thriller depicting the emotional disintegration of a troubled teenager. Unfortunately White Rabbit is a decidedly less impactful affair trafficking in psychological clichés, Southern stereotypes and familiar tropes including an ultra-violent conclusion that borrows too obviously from recent horrific news stories. Despite strong performances and impressive cinematography, the film ultimately has a paint-by-numbers feel that detracts from its overall effectiveness.

Beginning with a disturbing image of its lead character, Harlon (Nick Krause, The Descendants) looking quite menacing, the film flashes back to the events that led to his current state. A key element is a hunting trip he took years earlier with his alcoholic hillbilly father (Sam Trammell) who forced him to shoot the titular animal at close range.

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Several years later Harlon has become a comic book-obsessed young man clearly suffering from mental problems which include hearing voices encouraging him to commit violent acts. Socially isolated except for his younger friend Steve (Ryan Lee) and constantly bullied at school, his state of mind seems to briefly improve upon meeting the rebellious Julie (Britt Robertson) when she enlists him to unwittingly help her shoplift at a convenience store.

But their burgeoning relationship doesn't turn out as well as he hoped, and when she later reappears after a stint in rehab with a new boyfriend in tow—one of his former tormentors, in fact—it triggers Harlon's descent into full-blown madness that culminates in a violent rampage which, as the ambiguous finale illustrates, may or may not have actually happened.

Reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's Elephant which dealt with similar themes in a far more sophisticated manner, the film scripted by Anthony Di Pietro feels more exploitative than illuminating, not surprising considering that one of the director's previous efforts, Nowhere Man, concerned a man desperately searching for his severed penis.

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That said, it does have a haunting effect, with the filmmaker demonstrating impressive technical proficiency in his hallucinatory depiction of the central character's downward spiral. But even that is undercut by cheap plot twists including a late revelation about the true nature of Harlon's relationship with his one true friend.

Krause delivers a powerfully visceral performance, with equally fine work by Trammel as the father who straightens himself out after a life-changing event and Robertson as the young woman who undergoes a similar transformation. But their efforts are not enough to lift the B-movie level material.

Production: SSS Entertainment
Cast: Sam Trammell, Nick Krause, Britt Robertson, Ryan Lee
Director/editor: Tim McCann
Screenwriter: Anthony Di Pietro
Producers: Shaun Sanghani, Robert Yokum, Jacky Lee Morgan
Executive producers: Anthony Fiorin, Eric Reish, Nadar Ajlani
Director of photography: Alan McIntyre Smith
Production designer: Nate Jones
Costume designer: Caryn Frankenfield
Composer: John Vincent McCauley
Casting: Ryan Glorioso

No rating, 89 min.