Depictions of motherhood in horror have become increasingly popular in the last decade or so. Flicks like Hereditary, The Babadook, Relic, Hatching, and Goodnight Mommy are just a few popular examples of stories that explore the maternal experience from a psychological horror lens. Emmy-nominated Australian director Daina Reid (The Handmaid’s Tale) adds to this growing list with her second feature Run Rabbit Run. Written by Australian author Hannah Kent, the film follows the twisted relationship between Sarah, played by Sarah Snook of Succession fame, and her young daughter Mia, portrayed by the exceptional newcomer Lily LaTorre.
Sarah works as a fertility doctor in Melbourne, using her work to quietly keep numerous ghosts from her past at bay. At the film’s start, everything seems mundane and normal enough, with the mother waking her daughter Mia up on her seventh birthday, driving to work, and eventually coming back home to a party attended by the kid’s father (Damon Herriman) and his new wife. Putting this uncomfortable factor aside, it doesn’t take long for Sarah to recognize an increasingly strange change of behavior in Mia. The young girl becomes irritable, no longer acting like herself at all. She seems to be haunted by an identity from a past life, reliving bizarre memories that were never hers to begin with. This forces a distressed Sarah to finally peer into her own past and revisit dark memories and truths, making her question her life and pivotal role as a mother.
The uneasiness of Run Rabbit Run kicks off at Mia’s birthday party when a seemingly tame white rabbit mysteriously shows up at Sarah’s doorstep. Mia is utterly delighted to keep the critter but Sarah is apprehensive, perhaps linking her daughter’s odd behavior to the creature itself. It doesn’t help that Mia fashions a crude, paper facemask in the shape of a rabbit that she insists on wearing while being referred to as “Alice,” the same name of Sarah’s sister who also went missing at the mere age of seven. The tension between the two skyrockets when Mia demands to see Sarah’s own estranged mother Joan (Greta Scacchi), who suffers from dementia in a nursing home and burned bridges with Sarah after the real Alice’s disappearance. As Mia comes to fully disown Sarah in her new mysterious identity, it becomes easy to see where this story of familial trauma is going.
Sarah Snook is the undeniable saving grace of Run Rabbit Run. Snook commits to the rising ambivalence of the desperate mother role completely and naturally plays off clever child actress Lily LaToore. If there’s something to be said of this film, it’s that Snook does the most she can to salvage what is otherwise a poor mess. Run Rabbit Run ultimately lacks originality. Many elements are extremely reminiscent of another horror movie with similar themes from the same country of Australia – The Babadook. From an unruly child that takes a dark turn to a struggling mother doubting her own abilities as a caretaker and reminiscing on the past, all of these aspects are revisited in Run Rabbit Run, except with little to no finesse. It’s one thing for two films to have some main themes in common, but one feeling like a plain rehash of the other is less defendable.
The characters are far too underdeveloped and unrealistic in Hannah Kent’s screenplay. Many moments that are supposed to fill the audience with apprehension or worry come across as cliche and predictable, if not shallow and poorly executed. Even the recurring rabbit symbol that is used to perhaps instill a looming sense of dread in Sarah, as well as the viewer, ends up amounting to nearly nothing but an easy gimmick. That’s not to mention the film’s extremely slow pacing, which does no favors in keeping an audience engaged or remotely interested. Run Rabbit Run takes its sweet time plodding along, often fading to black at very strange, nonsensical moments. The script, even if filled with uninteresting dialogue, still hints at what is hoped to be a big reveal or some kind of payoff. Though by the time the film reaches its finale, all is stale – leaving no impression whatsoever.
On a technical level, though, there is some redemption to be found in Run Rabbit Run. The production design is detailed and sufficient while Mark Bradshaw and Marcus Whale’s score adds an eerie ambiance that plays into the intended mood of the story. Run Rabbit Run really attempts to lean into the psychological horror of its plot and gives more patience to its grieving characters, which is admirable on a conceptual level. If only there was more patience to spare for its lack of original ideas or imagination. Sarah Snook’s performance is great in a vacuum and Lily LaToore does the best she can with the classic creepy child trope. Beyond these few acting nods, Run Rabbit Run is unfortunately quite the forgettable horror flick. A slow burn that can’t keep a hold of its flame.
Run Rabbit Run was acquired by Netflix from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, and this makes some sense as this is a good example of a streaming film that is likely to end up serving as background noise to at-home viewers. Many of these subscribers may even lose interest before the second act, and if they’re on the hunt for more Sarah Snook content, they’ll be better off switching over to Succession for now instead.